NATASHA RAMER’S DELIGHTFUL GIFT TO WASHINGTON D. C.
BY MAX MCCULLOUGH
BDAA NEWSLETTER XXXIV № 1 2011
A couple of weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, Francie and I received a call from a friend inviting us to attend an event that had somehow escaped our notice – a “reading” to be presented at the Russian and Eastern European Cultural Center in Washington, DC by an old friend of ours and of the BDAA, Natasha Ramer. Knowing immediately that anything Natasha produces would be interesting, we accepted with pleasure.
We were not disappointed. The production was “I Take Your Hand in Mine”, a two-person show which tells the poignant six-year love story of writer Anton Chekhov and actress Olga Knipper through excerpts from the 412 letters they exchanged over the course of their tempestuous romance at the turn of the last century.
The show could not have been better cast – New Orleans actors Kathy Randels (Knipper) and Scott Michael Jefferson (Chekhov), both of New Orleans, played their roles with wit, dignity and compassion, conveying both the ecstasy and the agony of the couple’s courtship and marriage and, due to Chekhov’s chronic “consumption” (later identified as tuberculosis), their separation as Olga pursued her acting career at the Moscow Arts Theatre and Anton wasted away at his family’s villa in Yalta where the climate was bearable for him. Through their letters, the audience was also introduced to the broader issues of theatre, art and politics in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Russia.
The play, written by Dr. Carol Rocamora, premiered at the Almeida Theatre in London and is currently playing at the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. Dr. Rocamora, a translator, playwright and teacher, has published translations of Chekhov’s complete dramatic works in three volumes by Smith & Kraus.
Natasha Ramer, who many in the BDAA will remember as the coordinator of our New Orleans convention in 2001, has produced and directed many theatrical ventures during her time in the United States. This one was a true labor of love, and as she puts it, “ … as I have rehearsed and put this play together, I have felt as if my spirit were being transported to distant and beautiful past era when one could Chekhov’s voice along with that of Tolstoy, when one could hear the stunning music of Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff for the first time, when Fyodor Chaliapin’s bass voice thundered. And the remarkable theatre headed by Stanislavski, Nemirovich and Olga Knipper was born.
At the end of the evening after the bows and applause, Mr. Jefferson surprised and delighted the audience when, carrying a bouquet of red roses, he knelt and proposed marriage to his companion who was seated in the front row.
Obviously surprised and delighted herself, the lady smilingly accepted as he slipped a ring on her finger. A champagne toast and buffet, courtesy of the Cultural Center director Yuri Zaitsev and the Center staff, followed the program (and the proposal).
Altogether a most satisfactory way to spend Valentine’s Day. If you have an opportunity to see this production, we’d recommend it highly – whether it happens to be February 14 or not.