Theater Review: Troika: God, Tolstoy & Sophia

From the long and storied life of the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina more than one substantial dramatic work could surely be culled. Peter Levy’s Troika: God, Tolstoy & Sophia is not one such, but it is an interesting and crisply written piece about Tolstoy’s last days. The great man’s domestic responsibilities, the sense of social justice that urges him to renounce his possessions, and his religious devotion collide with one another and with the conflicting desires and loyalties of the friends and family members who surround him – particularly his wife, who fears the loss of her inheritance – as his long and titanic life draws to a close in the years before revolution transformed Russia so violently. It is subject matter that lends itself easily to a drama of passions and ideas.

The staging and acting in this production do not serve the script well, however. The actors, for the most part, give one-note performances: Tolstoy (Mike Durell), scowling and bitter; his wife Sophia (Catherine Hennessey), loud, whiny and melodramatic; the publisher Chertkov (Seth D. Rabinowitz), slimily sycophantic; and so on. Only the two youngsters, Kristin Ledingham as Sasha Tolstoy and Mark Comer as the aging writer’s green but wily and romantic new secretary, Bulgakov, show some depth and chemistry in and between their characters. Yet even their love story is constricted by stodgy, uninspired staging.

In short (to use an expression not often associated with Tolstoy), the great author deserves better. Levy captures enough of the old Count’s life and times to hold the viewer’s attention, but this production just makes one wish for more and better.

At the 13th Street Repertory Theater in NYC through June 17.

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