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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Mint Theater

By Robert Cashill

  Photo: Rahav Segev

I fully expected the Mint, which has breathed new life into forgotten plays by the little-remembered Harley Granville Barker (The Madras House) and St. John Hankin (Return of the Prodigal), to dig deep into The Power of Darkness, an 1888 piece by no less than the towering Leo Tolstoy. But, backed though it is by a $100,000 Tony Randall Theatrical Grant, which accommodated more actors and a bigger (if not better) set than the Mint usually holds, the show ends up poverty-stricken where it most counts.

To his credit, the adapter and director, Martin Platt, hasn't shied from either the misogyny or the piety of the play's time and place. Life is harsh for Tolstoy's peasants, whose sins multiply before a distant God. To contemporize the show, which has been sanitized in the past, Platt has added a Tarantino-esque torrent of profanity to the dialogue every woman the rakish, devil-may-care Nikita (Mark Alhadeff) seduces and abandons is a fucking bitch or a fucking whore, and before long in the three-hour show, it gets to be too fucking much. Nikita, who walked out on the orphaned Marina (Letitia Lange), helps Anisya (Angela Reed), who has greater prospect of prosperity, dispose of her landowner husband, then beds down with her stepdaughter. The inconvenient truth of their union is disposed of at the grisly beginning of Act II, as a repentant Nikita lurches toward redemption.

Not even Montgomery Clift in his Place in the Sun prime could have worked up much sympathy for Nikita, whose transgressions would tax the combined might of Dr. Phil and Judge Judy over a full season if he lived in our tabloid age, but the unappealing and uncharismatic Alhadeff gives a shrill, one-note performance, typical of the ensemble. Only Randy Danson, who plays Nikita's calculating mother Matryona like Edward G. Robinson in a babushka, and Steve Brady as his fretful father Akim leaven the overall flatness, though the latter struggles with another one of Platt's dialogue enhancers, muttering whatsamacallit? when he can't remember something. Less than Mint condition, for the company and I think for Tolstoy, whose plotting and moralizing come across as more overwrought than transporting, The Power of Darkness has been diluted by some questionable choices in its passage to the 21st century.


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