Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Saturday through June 16, $85
Over the last few years, Richard Nelson has been detailing the exploits of the Rhinebeck-based Apple family in such decidedly American, politically tinged works as That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad, and Sorry. Nelson examines a very different kind of extended American family in the intelligent and engaging Nikolai and the Others, running at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater through June 16. It’s the spring of 1948, and a group of Russian immigrants has gathered at the Westport farmhouse of Vera and Igor Stravinsky (Blair Brown and John Glover) to honor elderly set designer Sergey Sudeikin (Alvin Epstein). Among the guests are choreographer George Balanchine (Michael Cerveris), actor Vladimir Sokoloff (John Procaccino) and his wife, Lisa (Betsy Aiden), Balanchine confidant and Stravinsky friend and translator Lucia Davidova (Haviland Morris), piano teacher Aleksi Karpov (Anthony Cochrane) and his fiancée, Natasha Nabokov (Kathryn Erbe), and composer Nikolai “Nicky” Nabokov (Stephen Kunken), Natasha’s first husband and a man who helps out his fellow Russian émigrés through secret connections. The men and women discuss life and love, art and politics while eating and drinking delicacies from the old country, proud of their heritage as well as having become American citizens. The evening’s centerpiece is to be the presentation of a pas de deux from Balanchine and Stravinsky’s upcoming ballet, Orpheus, performed by Balanchine’s wife, Maria Tallchief (Natalia Alonso), and Nicholas Magallanes (Michael Rosen), but the arrival of conductor Serge Koussevitsky (Dale Place) with U.S diplomat Charles Bohlen (Gareth Saxe) throws everything out of balance as suspicion and fear hover in the country air.
Though featuring real characters and referencing many actual events, Nikolai and the Others is a fascinating creation of Nelson’s, an imaginary weekend that delves into the very nature of the creative process in a quickly changing world. (For example, Sudeikin died in 1946, two years before the play takes place.) But Nelson does an excellent job capturing the powerful emotions these Russian immigrants are experiencing as they attempt to continue their careers in America at the start of the Cold War, in search of personal and professional freedom that comes at a price. Nelson and director David Cromer (Tribes, When the Rain Stops Falling) have the characters speak unaccented English when they are conversing in their native Russian tongue, then in thickly accented English when they are talking in English itself, a conceit that is confusing at first but ultimately works very well. Glover, Brown, and Cerveris lead a strong cast that feels like they have formed a warm family of their own while inviting in the audience, which wraps around Marsha Ginsberg’s intimate set. The show takes on added meaning since it is in the midst of its world premiere at Lincoln Center, where Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein (who is mentioned often but is never seen) ultimately moved the New York City Ballet after founding the troupe in 1948 and including Orpheus in its inaugural season.