Martin Giles has walked many miles on Pittsburgh stages over the years. This time, he outdoes himself -- and is ultimately outdone -- by the theatrical marathon "The Kreutzer Sonata" now playing at Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre.
This adaptation of Tolstoy's familiar story by Irish playwright Nancy Harris demands a solo performance of more than 90 minutes, an uninterrupted monologue by Pozdynyshev, an ordinary man driven to murder by an unhappy marriage.
"The Kreutzer Sonata" is a mainstay of literature courses, studied as an example of Tolstoy's criticism of 19th-century Russian society aimed at shattering hidebound convention and letting in the light of modernism. It's an allegory, and Pozdynyshev is a stereotype, rather than an interesting human being, hence the difficulty in transforming the story into a single-character play, especially when that character is an egotistical, clueless clod.
Tolstoy's focus on the everyday life adds to the play's lifeless quality. He's obsessed with the hundreds of small details that make up the day. In response, set designer Gianni Downs crams the cramped Heymann stage with a fussy pile of furniture covered with white sheets representing Pozdynyshev's charmless existence.
A divorce might solve Pozdynyshev's misery, but Russian law forbids it. Tolstoy's work was an argument for divorce rights, a literary polemic against his country's outmoded ways. In his powerful, naturalistic style, the Russian writer made a compelling case, but this adaptation never addresses that argument.
Instead, Ms. Harris reworks Tolstoy's story into a psychological study of how boredom and regret are turned into insanity and murder. Her adaptation is a small, cramped version of Tolstoy's bigger vision of revelation and insight. Credit Mr. Giles for capturing Pozdynyshev's mounting craziness fueled by jealousy and the insistent driving nature of Beethoven's music, the violin-piano sonata that gives the play its name.
Pozdynyshev professes to hate music yet allows his attractive wife and a childhood friend to perform the sonata at his home. The prospect of hearing the piece played by violinist Juan Jaramillo and pianist Alaine Fink lent real interest to the play, but they never appear on stage. Instead the audience sees them on a video screen and hears only brief passages from the sonata.
For whatever reason, either financial or artistic by director Alan Stanford -- the decision to downsize the presence of the music -- vividly described by Tolstoy -- is disappointing, leaving Mr. Giles to do all the work. With all of the play's missteps, the burden is too heavy for many actors, including the experienced Mr. Giles who, after nearly 90 minutes of acting, flubbed lines and seemed to search around the stage looking for help, but there was none.
"The Kreutzer Sonata" would work better with more characters, especially the narrator from the story who sets the context for the tale. Instead, it's a one-note marathon by a single runner who reaches the finish line at last, but there's no medal, no payoff, for all that effort.
Bob Hoover: Bobhoover46@gmail.com.