Gusev is a must see! by David Snodgrass

What is the value of human life?  The Breaking Sting Theater Company sets out to contemplate this difficult question in their production of Anton Chekhov’s, Gusev.  For the entirety of the play the audience is following a group of men traveling on a ship’s infirmary  from the far east back to their homeland Russia.  These men, young and old, grapple with their reality and reminisce on their mixed feelings of home.  Gusev takes us into the psyche of two tortured men as they slowly approach their fates.

Under the direction of Graham Schmidt the audience is taken on a fresh journey atypical of Chekhov productions.  Schmidt’s  direction style is unique and exciting. He takes a work born out of realism and naturalism and instead leads his cast on an artistic journey of their own through this abstract adaption.  Schmidt allowed for his team to share in a vision creating a final work of theater that was truly exciting to see.

The creative team involved in this production deserves to be commended!  This show should be considered a success in every sense of the word from the work of the set design, costume design, media design, sound design, and performances.

In particular, the work of projection designer Julia M.Smith was unlike any I have seen in live theater.  Smith’s intricate projections were at times blissful and other times haunting.  Her design told a story in itself that served to heighten the inner conflict of the performers.  Smith’s work truly added an element to Chekhov’s writing that I can only describe as indescribable.

The performance of Keith Machekanyanga in the title role of Gusev was exceptional!  There was never a moment where his performance lacked in energy or seemed glib.  I bought from his first moment to his last that he was the tortured Gusev before my eyes.  Machekanyanga displayed an innate ability to take the audience from high to low in a matter of seconds.  The dedicated performance of Keith Machekanyanga allows the audience to create a new understanding of Chekhov’s work.  I look forward to see what this young actor delivers on the Austin theater scene for years to come.

The choreography in Gusev was astounding.  Much like the show as a whole the dancers would at one moment be in a chaotic frenzy and in the next graceful.  Erica Gionfriddo’s choreography gave me the sense that I was on the sea with the performers being tossed around by the waves.

All in all, this show was a success.  The collaboration between artist on this work truly shows.  It is not an easy task to take something traditional like Anton Chekhov and search for new meaning in it.  However, this cast and production team has achieved just that!  Congratulations and well done to all involved with Gusev.  I will be seeing this one again!

For tickets visit  Gusev runs from now until August 29th.


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