Friday, October 19, 2012

Off-Broadway: Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812

Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812
Ars Nova
written and composed by Dave Molloy
directed by Rachel Chavkin
Monday, Oct. 15

Ars Nova: better than BAM and a quarter the cost. This month, the space in Hell's Kitchen hosts a chamber opera by the gifted Dave Molloy. He's set roughly 75 pages of War & Peace to 150 minutes of modernist music―a pomo polyglot of cellos, bass sax, drum loops, and accordions. That scenario could be abrasive, but Molloy, director Rachel Chavkin, and Ars Nova deliver instead a warm, immersive evening. The cozy theater has been converted into a 21C version of a Moscow salon, welcoming audiences with free vodka and black bread. Molloy embodies this generosity by taking the role of Pierre, one of Tolstoy's central characters, a Muscovite with a large heart and unhappy marriage. The character, in turn, represents part of Tolstoy's own artistic spirit: objective yet passionate, and possessed of a judiciously moral voice.

The show draws a slice from midway through the long novel, a brief but catastrophic debut of Pierre's friend Natasha into society and his attempt to salvage her reputation. After he's brought her a modest crumb of comfort, he spots that titular comet in the Russian night and has a moment of cosmic awareness. To reproduce the novel's intimate yet epic voice, Molloy employs a stylistic pastiche and shifts of tone and perspective. Aside from his Pierre, the minor role of Natasha's confidante offers the most “Tolstoyan” moment. As Sonya, Brittain Ashford possesses incredible emotional and tonal range as well as the slightest lisp, which lends specificity to her heart-heavy solo in act 2. Though each act has its slow stretches, it compensates with invaluable moments like this one. Theater of grandeur on a small stage, this show feels somehow indispensible to the artistic life of 2012.


Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 plays at Ars Nova, closing on Nov. 10. Tickets?


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