The Primrose Path takes place in Russia in the mid 19th century. Maria is trying to marry off her daughter Elizaveta (aka Lisa) to the pompous but wealthy Panshin, but Lisa would rather join a convent. Maria's cousin Lavretsky returns home from Paris without his wife - how scandalous! Lavretsky is the opposite of Panshin, a smart, humble, good-hearted man, and therefore Lisa falls in love with him (this was a time when it was OK for cousins to marry, something George Michael Bluth would approve of). The mystery of Lavretsky's missing wife stands between them, an obstacle they think they've overcome, until they find out they haven't. This basic storyline is surrounded by much talking and joking, a little music (including a piano played live on stage), romping through the woods, and skinny-dipping. It felt to me like a Shakespearean comedy, almost a farce with all of the jokes, antics, and falling prostrate on the ground. So I was expecting that our favorite couple would magically get together at the end, as typically happens in Shakespeare's comedies. But that was not the case, and I was left a bit jarred by the decidedly not happy ending.
|Kyle Fabel and Suzy Kohane|
as the star-crossed lovers
The Guthrie's thrust stage is sparsely furnished, yet makes an effective transition from Lavretsky's abandoned and run-down estate, with furniture covered in sheets and broken down chairs scattered around, to his cousin Maria's more elegant home, with a staircase ascending from the floor. Huge columns adorn the back of the stage, weathered and stained, with pristine white columns being dropped in for scenes at Maria's grand house. There's also a charming scene of Lavretsky and Lisa floating on a raft across the stage. The costumes are beautiful, Maria's gowns as over-the-top as her personality, contrasting with Lisa's more simple and elegant attire. (Set design by Neil Patel, costume design by Fabio Toblini.)
As other reviewers have suggested, the creators of Primrose Path may not have succeeded in their goal of mixing the comedy and heart-felt emotion of Turgenev's novel. Having never read the novel, that doesn't really bother me too much, although as I said the ending left me feeling like something was lacking. But for me, it's enough to watch old and new favorite actors play together on stage. If that's enough for you too, check it out soon - the show closes next weekend (June 8).