With documentary concern, playwright Stefano Massini’s Intractable Woman: A Theatrical Memo on Anna Politkovskaya is a noble exploration of the murdered Russian journalist that is insufficiently realized for the stage. Mr. Massini’s script as translated by Paula Wing is a spare factual assemblage with no stage directions. Therefore, it must be assumed that the production’s lackluster presentation is the concept of director Lee Sunday Evans.
Scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg’s set is a hotel auditorium room with blue walls, white moldings, a portrait of Vladimir Putin, national flags and a bevy of red velvet chairs. Masha Tsimring’s lighting design is essentially a steady stream of brightness. Russian music, gunfire and explosions are well realized by sound designer Stowe Nelson. Black suits and white blouses is how costume designer Junghyun Georgia Lee clothes the cast. These technical elements are adept but bring little flair.
Exhibiting talent and charm but with relatively impassive vocal deliveries are the trio who portray Anna Politkovskaya and other characters such as soldiers, medical personnel and military officials. They are Nadine Malouf, Nicole Shalhoub and Stacey Yen. They’ve been styled to have similar appearances and directed to be distant so that their performances are in the mode of recitation rather than distinctive characterizations, resulting in a lack of emotional impact.
They intone a list of atrocities including decapitated heads on spikes, rapes, and gruesome mass executions. There’s descriptions of overrun hospitals, corruption, lack of food and Politkovskaya being poisoned. Periodically, Evans has them pointlessly move the chairs around into different configurations for seemingly aesthetic reasons. It comes across as desperation to have them doing something. The potential for a gripping Graham Green-style tragic political travelogue is undercut by Ms. Evans’ dull treatment. We sit there knowing that this is an important story but struggle to stay alert.
Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who become well known for her seven years of reporting on the 1990’s war in Chechnya between the Russians and the natives. Her exposés of the brutal events made her an enemy to both sides. She was arrested several times and attempts were made on her life. On October 7, 2006, she was shot to death at the age of 48 in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. Five men were later convicted for what was believed to be this contract hit job but who paid them remains unknown.
This underwhelming production does not do justice to Mr. Massini’s fine writing that conveys the profound achievements of this heroic figure and the evil forces she was up against.
Intractable Woman: A Theatrical Memo on Anna Politkovskaya
(through October 14, 2018)
The Play Company (PlayCo)
122CC, 150 1st Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866 811 4111 or visit http://www.playco.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
A finely written exploration of the heroic murdered Russian journalist is given a lackluster production.