The unlikely union of Chekhov's classic play, Ivanov, and the story of troubled rocker Kurt Cobain is the concept behind a new rock musical, Nirvanov, enjoying a critically-embraced run in several New York City venues in October.
Writer-lyricist-director David Karl Lee freely adapted the Chekhov play and added elements about the life of Cobain, the Nirvana singer who became lost in drugs, alcohol, depression and issues of success. Both the title character in the Chekhov and Cobain committed suicide.
The ghost of lobotomized film actress Frances Farmer appears in the musical, as a flight of director-writer Lee's fanciful imagination. Farmer was apparently an interest of Cobain's; the character is not based on a role from the Chekhov source (although Dr. Lvov from the original is now Dr. Courtney Lvov).
The piece is subtitled "the new rock musical about a suicidal singer and a lobotomized legend."
The production includes original choral and solo songs by Lee and composer Nandi Johannes. Among Lee's directing credits is the April 1999 staging of Mac Wellman's The Lesser Magoo at the 78th Street Theatre Lab. Mark H. Dold, who plays the title character, told Playbill On-Line that Nirvanov consistently breaks the fourth wall.
The piece began as a passing joke when Dold and Lee were classmates in the graduate program of Yale School of Drama. Cobain had just died, and the class happened to be focusing on scenes from Ivanov. Directing student Lee joked about doing a show called Nirvanov, and the idea somehow stuck. By the next fall Lee presented acting student Dold (who had long blond hair at the time) with a script. The show was performed with Nirvana songs in The Yale Cabaret in fall 1994.
"There are elements that are very Chekhovian," said Dold, who recently appeared in The Merchant of Venice at DC's Shakespeare Theatre. "[But] that very traditional Stanislavsky style gets spray-painted all over by this very contemporary, flashy rock star. It's interesting to jump back and forth between the traditional acting and the presentational, but the challenge has been to bring both of those worlds into one common world."
Nirvanov played performances Sept. 20-Oct. 3 at the Pure Pop Festival in New York City. A favorable notice from the Village Voice will likely stir interest for upcoming performances in The Chekhov Now Festival (through Oct. 10) at the Access Theatre in Tribeca (380 Broadway), and in the 78th Street Theatre Lab's Late Nite Series (Oct. 15-30, at 236 W. 78th Street).
For Chekhov Now information, call (212) 414-7773 and for 78th Street Theatre Lab information, call (212) 946-1284.
The company includes Theresa Lee, Greer Goodman, Mercedes Herrero, Charlie Lee, Johnny Sparks, Amanda Allan, Mike Kimmel, Oliver Tobin, Juan Lozano and Al Gillespie.
-- By Kenneth Jones