Get Cultured — June 1, 2017 at 4:05 pm

“The Nina Variations” Finds a Way to Break Your Heart 43 Times


15-bIn theater there are certain moments that scholars have studied for years, we have wondered at the incredible impact of it, and students based their foundation on its words. Moments like Jerry telling the story of the dog in “Zoo Story” or the violent despair of the poker scene in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” have affected and inspired artists through the ages. The power is shown in the longevity of their influence, their flexible style, their strong significance, and how we, the audience, can still relate to the emotions once given by its author. One such scene is the finale of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” with its examination of loneliness and unrequited love, it is a draining bookend to a seminal play. In The Nina Variations by Steven Dietz, this scene is constantly being split apart by its characters, put together, and then thrown away as if the pain of the words being said could change. But as we find out, just like life, once the moment happens, you can only think about it as a past thing, and that is the biggest tragedy of all.


So what happens in the Anton Checkov play? “The Seagull” is a story about love lost by flashes of life that while people recollect together, everybody has a different interpretation of it. At the end, Treplev and Nina, confront this problem by both taking themselves out of the game as a resolution. You see playwright Treplev is crazy in love with actress Nina, but Nina is in love with another writer who happens to be dating Treplev’s mother. In the end, their inability to capture the love they want while sharing an odd and cold connection to each other drives them to escape. One by leaving the life she knows, and the other by leaving life altogether. It is truly one of the most tragic finales in theater as you hope until the very line that they find happiness together. 


Directed by Coleman Ray Clark, “The Nina Variations” takes on this case and attempts to solve it with the eyes of a scientist. Breaking beats, finding the dots between the lines, giving each of their characters moments of self reflection.What can they find? Can they find love for each other? Joy in life? Actors Jake Owen and Jasmine Kimiko Stiefel use their body, their time, their voices to desperately find the answers, but they only find torture. Owen is great as Treplev, making him charming and sympathetic, which can be hard as the character can and usually is, performed as a sad person on the verge of suicide from the start. Owen gives more, he makes us care. He adds to the agony of seeing Treplev suffering with his performance. Stiefel on the other hand had a hard time keeping up emotionally with him at the beginning. Good news is she catches up just in time to give us the devastating ending we were hoping they escaped, yet are stuck with.

The Bridge Production Group presentation of “The Nina Variations” is a character study that can be satisfying, but challenging at times to sit through. There is little happiness in its running time, and is not really entertaining. Instead, we get an analysis of the human condition, of its selfishness, of its uber reliance in the unknown to bring wonder to the known and the consequences of it. It is not a show I would watch again, but I’m glad I saw.

“The Nina Variations” will be at the T. Schreiber Studios until this Sunday, June 4. If you love theater and its history, do yourself a favor and go watch it!

Out of four stars:


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