This was a creative venture that blew in with “The Wind,” the character for which professional concert violinist Christine Kharazian was cast as in Quotidian Theatre Company’s 2015 production of Anton Chekhov’s “A Little Trick.” She was discovered by accident, through a happenstance directory of professional musicians for hire. Quotidian needed a musician to literally play “The Wind.”
“Stand here, stand there—that’s it. An appropriate role for a musician,” said Kharazian, who has been playing violin since age 6. She had no lines in the play.
But that was not quite where it ended. “‘I really like your stage presence,’” Kharazian recalled director Stephanie Mumford saying to her.
Flash forward a year. We’re catching up with Kharazian on opening night for “The Lady with the Little Dog,” hours before the curtain lifts—her big debut as an actress with lines. Mumford, in crafting her adaptation of Chekhov’s short story, devised a part with Kharazian in mind: the violin-playing wife of Dmitry Gurov. This is a supporting character who, in this version, “expresses her love through music,” Kharazian said.
She’ll be playing from song books of the great Russian composers, bits from Scheherazade, that sort of thing. You can also hear her violin playing during the scene where the lead characters go to the theater to hear an opera called “The Geisha.” It’s all meant to conjure up a specific image of Russia.
“Music is very intertwined with the play,” Kharazian said. “It supports the scene.”
To backtrack a bit, Chekhov is a cornerstone playwright of Quotidian Theatre, where the mission is “finding truth and beauty in the everyday.” And by most accounts, this staging of “The Lady with the Little Dog” is faithful to this goal.
Kharazian is cast as the wife of Dmitry Gurov, and is depicted in Chekhov’s short story as a pseudo-intellectual. She’s a self-proclaimed intellectual that her husband regards as “unintelligent” and “narrow.” She is a reason he starts having affairs and is the impetus for his eventual hatred toward women—at least until he meets Anna Sergeyevna, the very-married Lady with the Little Dog who becomes his mistress and obsession.
There’s no reference to her playing a violin in the Chekhov original, but it does not feel like a stretch to imagine that this vapid socialite (at least, that’s how her husband depicts her in the printed story) plays the violin, too. After all, being a “violinist” adds to her talking points—proof that she is learned and artistic. It’s all worth mentioning the Sergeyevna’s lame lackey husband (played by Zach Roberts) plays piano in the play, another element that is not in the short story but works all the same.
Those who know the story are aware that what drives the plot is not the dynamic between Gurov and his wife, and this frame remains true in Mumford’s adaptation. By design, most of the energy on stage emanates not from Kharazian’s character, but from the plot lines carried by Chelsea Mayo’s Anna and Ian Blackwell Rogers’ Gurov.
Mumford weighed in on this. “I see Gurov’s love for Anna rooted in her desire for honesty and the truth, something that he abandoned years ago when he gave up a career in the opera to become a banker and enter a loveless marriage,” she said. “To me, the story is much bigger than a tawdry love story. It’s about a couple who seek to throw off all the falseness of their lives to find something better.”
But here’s the thing: The audience does not reside in Russia and this is not the dawn of the 20th century. Marrying for status and financial security is not exactly de rigueur. How can modern audiences connect to this tale?
“I think this is still a relevant issue,” Mumford said. “Take for example the phony personas people create on Facebook to impress other and attract ‘friends.’ There is still and always will be a lack of truth in our lives, and I think that is what Chekhov is getting at in his story.”
Quotidian Theatre presents “The Lady with the Little Dog” through Aug. 7 at The Writer’s Center, St., 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Visit https://quotidiantheatre.org or call 1-800-838-3006 Ext.1 / Ask for Quotidian Theatre.