Gorky in Brooklyn: a step forward; Barbarians

Out in Brooklyn, the BAM Theater Company is well into the middle of its first repertory season. Having opened ambitiously and creditably with "The Winter's Tale," the company has moved on to Charles MacArthur's well-received "Johnny on a Spot" and Maxim Gorky's "Barbarians." Besides the Gorki tragicomedy, the May-June calendar lists Rachel Crothers' "He and She" and "The Marriage Dance," described as "An Evening of Farce by Feydeau and Brecht."

In his 1908 sociological drama, Gorky observes in extended detail the effects of the approaching railroad on a small provincial Russian town and its people. The railroad's potential benefits are eagerly anticipated by all -- form peasants to local merchants and other bigwigs.

Gorki depicts the ways in which greed and opportunism, as well as sometimes unsuspected drives and motives, are stirred by the principal agents of progress. The provocative, intruding forces are personified by the senior engineer on the project (John Seitz), a cynical, bibulous philanderer, and his married associate (Jon Polito), whose coldly calculating ambitions relegate his pathetic wife (Marti Maraden) to miserable insignificance.

Gorki's canvas is numerously populated. He piles incident upon incident until one wishes director David Jones had given this more than three-hour play the benefit of judicious cutting.

Thanks to strong portrayals in several principal and incidental roles, the performance as a whole does credit to the BAM ensemble. Besides those already mentioned, the cast includes Bill Moor as a misanthropic doctor, Sheila Allen as an eccentric romantic, Brian Murray as her self-demeaning tax-inspector husband, John Heffernan as a devious, would-be intellectual, Frank Maraden as a local beggar, Boyd Gaines as a student employed by the engineers, Patrick Hines as a ludicrously self-important mayor, and MichaelJohn McGann and Christine Estabrook as his battered son and obstreperous daughter, and Avril Gentles as the philosophical "Gentlewoman of Property" in whose house and garden much of the action takes place.

Besides coping with the problems presented by the large BAM stage, Andrew Jackness has designed scenery that contributes to the visual atmosphere of the locale, as do Dunya Ramicova's costumes. The revival marks another step forward for the Brooklyn Academy of Music's progressing theatrical enterprise.

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