The Rachel Variations

The Nina Variations by Gobotrick Theatre Company

The Nina Variations by Gobotrick Theatre Company

Last Friday night I had a chance to catch my friend Rachel in the penultimate performance of The Nina Variations with Gobotrick Theatre Company. When I first heard the premise of the play, I’ll admit, I was a little reluctant to believe it would be even mildly tolerable.  The Nina Variations revisits the last scene of Chekhov’s The Seagull.  You know the one right before Treplev blows his brains out. The play begins with Treplev at his desk and Nina making her slow way to the door.  Once she crosses the threshold, the first of over forty different variations of what could have transpired instead begins, complete with a running onstage counter to help you keep track of them all (also to help mark what are sometimes very subtle transitions between variations). This concept just smacked of the sort of pretentiousness I associate with assistant theatre professors who wear black wool turtlenecks even in the summer. I mean, after forty-something retreads of the same depressing scene I thought I’d want to blow my brains out.  I went though because my friend Rachel McGinnis was performing the role of Nina.

Rachel in her fancy actress hat.

Rachel in Nina's fancy actress hat.

I would see Rachel in anything.  The last show I saw her in left me weepy for three days.  I mean, it was Crimes of the Heart which is sort of the Terms of Endearment of the theatre world so you should give me a pass on that one but still. She is amazing. I met her doing The New Jersey Book of the Dead with the Vestige Group.  I played her girlfriend Cass, and got to look into her eyes as she recited some of the worst lines ever said on stage with complete heart and conviction.  (Yeah, so I’m not a huge fan of Jason Grote. TNJBotD is a deeply flawed, if not truly horrible, play. It involved shamantic trances, onstage masturbation, one scene repeated at least three times, setting a homeless man on fire, and oh yeah, GRAPHIC IMAGERY FROM 9/11. Don’t you want to rush out and see that? And that’s after Susie killed the completely confusing time-traveling scenes into ancient Greece or the pyramids, and also the dildo I was supposed to present to Rachel’s character on a pillow. Enough? I thought so. I’ll stop now.) Waiting for the show to start, I saw her boyfriend Dave a few rows back. He was the aforementioned onstage masturbator. Sometime during or after that performance, they fell in love.

But I digress.  This was an exceptional show. Every element of the production was carefully considered and executed.  Rachel was unsurprisingly, a wonderful Nina – smiles and bossy flirtation in one variation, pure sorrowful longing in the next. Aaron Hallaway as Treplev possessed such innate naturalistic abilities that it was shocking how a performance that was sometimes so subtle worked so perfectly onstage. It was the elegant and simple staging that fostered this intimacy and made the audience care so much about what seemed in theory (at least to my cynical mind) to be an academic exercise for Chekhov fans, or maybe its own form of onstage masturbation.

Nina and Treplev sitting in a tree... no its much more complex than that.

Nina and Treplev sitting in a tree... no its much, much more complex than that.

One last thing, In an old Chronicle in our selection of er, bathroom reading,  I learned that the play was in fact written by a professor. Steven Dietz teaches playwriting and screenwriting at UT. Something tells me he doesn’t wear black turtlenecks though. I mean its really hot here.

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6 Comments

Filed under Reviews

6 responses to “The Rachel Variations

  1. Rachel

    I was reluctant about “Nina” before it was clear to me that I was in such good hands with Gobotrick, Will & Aaron. It did seem like a potential disaster if done poorly (and, oh, it has been!). I knew it was going to be a hard sell to not only the public, but even to dear theater friends. And how in the hell to deliver some of those poetic lines? How do you draw these bold characters with a soft line? How do you make the audience curse and cry for the same person? There was a lot of exploration and research and thinking that I put into this, and thank god people were kind enough to show up and give it a shot. It ended up being one of the most rewarding parts I’ve done to date. Right up there with sad, pathetic Lenny.

    As for dildos, flames, and masturbation…it’s hard to believe at times how much richer my life is as a result of all of that garbage. I suppose that’s the reward for putting my heart into it…I’m gonna hope nobody takes those sentences out of context. 🙂

  2. Brooklyn, TX

    i don’t know rachel, but i do know you, and i’m looking forward to reading about your journey here…don’t stop believin’

  3. I couldn’t agree more, I consider myself an intellecutual and a seasoned and intelligent theatre goer.. (being anxious to be support and sustain any kind of erudite and unique theatre offerings) and to support Rachel, I was terrified it would be tedious, but she effortlessly made it fresh each time, I know her to be an incredibly sweet person, but I believed her capable of Nina’s selfishness and cruelty. That takes work, and nuance and a lot of talent.. Bravo to Gobotrick!! and Bravissima to Rachel McGinnis !!!!

  4. Um…”assistant theatre professors who wear black wool turtlenecks even in the summer”? Ouch. That hits a bit too close for comfort, Pim. I mean, my turtlenecks are cotton, not wool, but still. And sometimes my neck gets chilly on those late-August nights. What’s a guy to do? Wear a silk scarf? Now THAT would be pretentious.

  5. actresstx

    Sorry about that reference there Dr. Don. I just realized I should have mentioned something about a pretentious theatre academic’s choice of facial hair as well. I just added your link to my friends’ list in case anyone wants to see a demonstration.

    I KID, I KID.

  6. Jennymarie, thanks for listing “Austin Live Theatre” on your blogroll.

    I followed a link back back to you and discovered your comments on the Nina Variations, with Rachel’s reply — and posted a link to them on the ALT review, since they gave another perspective to that fine piece of acting. Let me know if you’d prefer not to be linked!

    regards, Michael

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