Butler University Theatre, Lilly Hall, directed by William Fisher. April 27 through May 1.
For his first time directing at Butler, the university’s new theater chair William Fisher chose the engaging, imperfect Small Lives/Big Dreams.
Created by Ann Bogart (New York’s SITI Company) from the texts of Anton Chekhov’s major plays (The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, etc), Small Lives is less a story than a dance of words and images around Chekhov themes, such as suffering, memory and survival. One by one, five characters parade and trudge across a stage made of giant, slate-like slabs (another beguiling design by Rob Koharchik).
The set, the sound of a storm and the odd personal items the characters carry — suitcases, a birdcage, a parasol — suggest they are the unrelated refugees of disaster. They don’t have cohesive conversations but exchanges of ideas and emotions. There is fear and fretting, poise and play and occasionally, hysterics and flirtation. Characters pair off to share confidences, come together as a group and then break off, one by one.
In this way, Small Lives is a lilting piece of theatrical choreography with fully invested performances and yet it does not fully satisfy. Over the hour, as the longings of Chekhov’s original characters bleed through the jumbled text, one craves to watch the Chekhov plays in tact. Still, Small Lives does much to reassert Butler University’s position as a place to explore theater as it has been and as it might be.
4600 Sunset Blvd., 940-9659; www.butler.edu/theatre.