Altar or anchor?

The minister is preaching to choir in Blue Room’s Marriage

HARE VS. TORTOISE Quentin St. George (left) and Amber Miller are dueling matchmakers Fiokla Ivanovna and Ilya Fomin Kochkariev in Nikolai Gogol’s <i>Marriage</i>. A blurry Samantha Perry as Ivan Kuzmitch Podkoliosin is in the background.

HARE VS. TORTOISE Quentin St. George (left) and Amber Miller are dueling matchmakers Fiokla Ivanovna and Ilya Fomin Kochkariev in Nikolai Gogol’s Marriage. A blurry Samantha Perry as Ivan Kuzmitch Podkoliosin is in the background.

Photo By Tom Angel

The red lights and circus waltz thickening the air were enough to let me know the scene was Russia, but the skyline of gold, onion-shaped spires painted across the breadth of the Blue Room left no question. More specifically, the setting of this rendition of Nikolai Gogol’s Marriage was billed as “somewhere in Moscow, sometime in the 19th century.”

Director Dylan Latimer calls the play “a beautiful, hilarious examination of the ways in which everyone, men and women alike, are simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the idea of marriage,” and I was prepared to let down my guard a bit and experience a healthy challenge to my own definition of what it means to be married.

With the entire cast in white face, snappy dialogue and slapstick were the fuel of the narrative engine in a vaguely Marx Brothers approach. In fact, Samantha Perry’s Ivan Kuzmitch Podkoliosin not only looked like Groucho, with the mustache and exaggerated eyebrows, but her charming and quick-witted delivery paid homage as well.

In a nutshell, the play is about aging bachelor Podkoliosin (Perry), who digs his free and easy life and is fairly unconcerned with the social pressure that regularly visits his door in the person of local matchmaker Fiokla Ivanovna (Quentin St. George). All is well in his irreverent universe until his meddling buddy Ilya Fomin Kochkariev (Amber Miller) preys upon his feelings of loneliness, vanity and horniness, thus motivating him to the front of a line consisting of three other opportunistic yet unsuitable suitors vying for the hand of the frightened but desperate, aging, middle-class maiden Agafya Kuperdiagina, played by Michelle Smith.

Familiar ideas and confusions on the machinations and motivations behind entering into marriage abound. Podkoliosin doesn’t want to get married just because society tells him to; he wants to get married because he’s horny! And, maybe he wants to break up his boring solitary life. And he definitely wants to make little people that “look like him.” The other suitors, the hefty, gruff merchant Ivan Pavlovitch Poach’tegg (Rich Parmeter), the spineless Nikanor Ivanovitch Anuchkin (James Wilkerson) and the starry-eyed and homely flake Baltazar Baltazarovitch Zhevakin (Lisa Schmidt), are respectively motivated by greed (for the dowry), social status ("Does she speak French?") and weak and blubbery love.

As the matrimonial target, Kuperdiagina flips and flops from (literally) choosing a mate out of a hat to providing convoluted justifications for each of the less-than-desirable suitors. Her insecurities about becoming a spinster are compounded by the two would-be matchmakers, especially Kochkariev. Miller plays her part as a cartoonish trickster (replete with a sinister upturned mustache) always out of breath and scheming out of one corner of his mouth while sharing asides with the audience out of the other. Her (his) energetic persuasion/manipulation of all parties is by far the most engaging characterization on display.

A spark does eventually flutter between Podkoliosin and Kuperdiagina, and the corrupted influences that pushed them together appear momentarily absent. Without giving too much away, in the end there is a twist, but the comment being made would seem more of a question of choice as opposed to any epiphanous declaration on marriage.

This is a fine place to end up in this play—there are a lot of points on marriage brought up, but nothing particularly revelatory, and as social satire it doesn’t really hit that hard.

My lack of enthusiasm is due to the fact that I wanted more action! The role reversal of women playing men and vice versa was a nice touch, and there were some amusing little bits, with the stage spinning as characters walked and Podkoliosin’s "child" dropping from the ceiling, but the rest of the slapstick was unenergetic and telegraphed (two people walking side by side might not fit through a door—look out!). As a story, there’s no real drama, just a string of characters dancing around. As a farce, the few highpoints left me wanting more.