Public Theater Premieres Guillermo Calderón’s “Neva”

The Neva cast: Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Bianca Amato, and Luke Robertson. Photo: Carol Rosegg

The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival is known for being a great way to see some of the best new theater from artists from around the world. One of those artists, Chilean writer-director Guillermo Calderón, made such an impact on the Public (and those lucky enough to have seen his critically acclaimed, politically charged play, Diciembre) when it played at the 2011 festival, that they invited him back this year for a stand alone slot as part of their regular season. His new play Neva begins its English language premiere this Friday, March 1.

Neva tells the story of Anton Chekhov’s widow, the actress Olga Knipper, as she reflects on life, art and love with fellow actors waiting to rehearse “The Cherry Orchard” in a theater in St. Petersburg during the cold winter of 1905. As they act out scenes from their lives inside the safety of the theater, “Bloody Sunday” has been unleashed outside on the streets as the Tsarist regime guns down striking workers. What unfolds is a haunting, fresh, and often humorous look at what it means to create art in violent times.

It will be interesting to see an English version of Neva. One of the things I most like about Under the Radar is that the international work is performed in its native language, albeit with subtitles. Like watching a foreign film, I enjoy following the action as it unfolds in its intended language. I also find subtitles distracting and often wonder if they capture all of the subtleties of the story and the actor’s intentions. But with a translation by Andrea Thome, and a gifted ensemble, Calderón’s gorgeously crafted reflection on “life, art and the revolutionary impulse” should shine through.

Neva / Public Theater / 425 Lafayette Street / Previews March 1 – 10, Opening March 11, through March 31 / $55 / (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org