Canadian playwright George F. Walker did more than just translate Ivan Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons" when he created his stage play drawing from that famous 1862 novel. Using modern stage techniques and distinctly modern language to make the characters as accessible as possible for modern audiences, he created something very different than the original 250-page tome.
Perhaps that is why he didn't title his creation "Fathers and Sons." Instead, his stage version is "Nothing Sacred," and its tone is distinctly present-day, even if it is set in — as the vaudevillish poster at the sides of the stage informs the audience — "Russia in the Spring, 1859."
What is more, the plot has changed considerably. Walker says this is not an adaptation — it is a play inspired by the novel. He stays fairly close to the original characters, which explains why they are given the same names as in the novel: Bazarov, Arkady, Kirsanov, Fenichka, etc. The set up to the events is also quite Turgenev-ish. But it leads to a very different conclusion.
FIREBELLY PRODUCTIONS, a company specializing in giving younger talent a chance at professional experience in roles they can sink their teeth into, picks up this 1988 play by one of Canada's most prolific and often produced playwrights (over two dozen full length plays in the last thirty years).
Robb Hunter is making his local debut as a director, but it is certainly not the first time his name has shown up in the programs of local theatergoers. It's just that, until now, the credit has been "Fight Direction" or "Fight Choreography" rather than "Director."
As you might expect from someone who has been on the choreographic side of productions before, Hunter brings an eye for use of the stage space to this mounting, even if it is on the fairly small space available in Arlington County's black box called Theatre on the Run. He creates very different locales in the garden stage left and the dining room stage right, and the path through the woods downstage.
Firebelly veterans Jon Townson and Patrick Flannery are the young "nihilists," the 1860s Russian equivalent of the hippies of America's 1960s.
Townson uses his light way with a flippant line to good effect, and he strides across the small stage with a certain flair, but when he stands still he often holds one hand in the small of his back as if striking a pose. Flannery has the more demanding role as his character is less sure of himself, torn between admiration for his colleague's ideas and his affection for his father who still holds on to more traditional values.
The father is played with an appropriate sense of confusion by Charles St. Charles, a newcomer to Firebelly but certainly not to local theater. That confusion is prompted by his character's dilemma posed by his love for a woman not of his class. Clarissa Zies is attractive as the woman he loves and she shows the spunk it would take for her, a servant, to stand up for herself.
Dave Bobb handles the role of the aristocratic dandy with a sense of humor that keeps him from seeming too much a fop. This sets up the final confrontation well.
This excursion on the characters and situations in Turgenev's classic is something less than classic itself, but it is an entertaining evening of theater in the hands of these performers.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.