‘End’ time: Memory, aging, and Chekhov at Mabou Mines

L to R: “This Was The End” cast members James Himelsbach and Rae C. Wright, with G. Lucas Crane (live sound score and video manipulation). | Photo by Brian Rogers

BY TRAV S.D. | Seven and a half years. That’s how long Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) thought people would still be interested in reading his writing after he died. Chekhov never dreamt that 114 years after he passed, millions would still be savoring his work. As a case in point, his play “Uncle Vanya” has been in circulation for nearly 120 years — and not only is the play still being produced, it has become enough of a well-known classic that fairly radical interpretations and deconstructions have been undertaken over the years. Such is Restless NYC’s “This Was The End,” being presented at the Mabou Mines Theater, June 7 to 16.

Created and directed by Restless NYC’s Mallory Catlett, “This Was The End” features live sound score and video manipulation by G. Lucas Crane, and an all-star Downtown cast that includes the Ridiculous Theatrical Company’s Black-Eyed Susan, Paul Zimet (Open Theater and Talking Band), Rae C. Wright, and James Himelsbach. It is part of the inaugural season of Mabou Mines’ space in the newly renovated 122 Community Center (formerly known as PS122).

Technically, the production is a remounting. It was originally developed from 2009 through 2011 as part of Mabou Mines’ Resident Artists Program, then presented at The Chocolate Factory in Long Island City in 2014. The original set, the long classroom wall with sliding chalkboards from the old Mabou Mines space, was salvaged prior to the 2013 renovation. In this multimedia presentation, the cast interacts with video and audio elements. Analog audiotape containing lines from Chekhov’s text is mixed live, allowing the performers to improvise with earlier incarnations of their own characters. A video image of the set is projected onto the set itself, creating a visual blur of past and present.

After shelving the project for nearly a decade, “This Was The End” creator/director Mallory Catlett found her age-appropriate Sonya in Black-Eyed Susan (seen here on swing). | Photo by Mick Bello

According to Catlett, the roots of the project go back to the late 1990s, when she was a graduate student at the School for Contemporary Arts of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. “The germ of it came to me when I was saw my own father have a late-midlife crisis and enter a sort of massive depression,” she said. Not knowing any age-appropriate actors at the time, she shelved the project, and then picked it up nearly a decade later when she was working on a production called “Red Fly/Blue Bottle” with Black-Eyed Susan, and realized that she would be right for the part of Sonya in “Uncle Vanya.” (Susan, like her three fellow cast members, is over 60).

Sonya is the niece and helpmeet of the title character (Zimet), the caretaker of a country estate. Himelsbach plays their neighbor, Dr. Astrov; Wright plays Yelena, wife of the estate’s owner, whose taste for luxury means disaster for Vanya.

“It’s about time, memory, and aging,” Catlett said. “Vanya is stuck in the past. He thinks he’s still 45. He’s locked in a loop.”

In addition to Chekhov’s original text, Catlett noted that the production was heavily influenced by Marcel Proust, whose masterwork “In Search of Lost Time” plays with shifting memory — or, as she put it, “the convergence between now and remembering. Proust said that if you can’t transform your griefs, they can kill you. Memory gives people, gives characters, an opportunity to reclaim and revisit the past. The video and audio elements we’re using allow us to explore that.”

“This Was The End” is performed Thurs.–Sat, June 7–9 and June 14–16 at 8pm, and Sun., June 10 at 3pm. Runtime: 65 minutes, At the Mabou Mines Theater, at 122CC (150 First Ave., corner of E. Ninth St.). For tickets ($25, $15 for students with ID), visit maboumines.org or call 866-811-4111. Also visit restlessproductionsnyc.org.

A video image of the set is projected onto the set itself, creating a visual blur of past and present. | Photo by Brian Rogers

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