WARD 6, by Anton Chekov, Central Works, adapted and directed by Gary Graves

Central Works’ artistic director Gary Graves, adapted Anton Chekov’s short story “Ward 6” into an one act play.  This is not his first.  Graves has adapted two other Chekov novellas for the stage:  One is “The Duel” in 2004, then “An Anonymous Story” in 2010.   Press notes state that Ward 6 concerns a ward for the insane in a provincial hospital in the backwoods of the Russian countryside in the late 1800s.  Dr. Andrei Ragin (an excellent Richard Frederick), first as narrator, stresses the filth and disorder prevailing in the institution, as well as the cruel barbarity that the caretaker Nikita (ruthless Adam Roy) shows toward the helpless patients in the ward.   Now as Director, listening to the ‘rantings’ of Ivan, a filthy, unkempt ward patient ensconced in the massive fireplace that occupies one end of the staging area among old newspapers and garbage (perfectly played by Ed Berkeley), Ragin is awakened to the suffering and corruption that surrounds him.  Ragin’s colleagues become alarmed by his unconventional relationship with the inmate so take a radical course of treatment for the doctor accomplished under the direction of Dr. Khobotov, a new hire who somehow surreptitiously and underhandedly becomes the new asylum director.  Ragin himself becomes a patient.

Khobotov is played by the versatile Louel Señores, in one of two rôles, the other being that of Moiseika, an inmate who is allowed to leave the institution only because he is a black market wheeler-dealer so supplies the staff with goods otherwise unobtainable. Señores is also a part of the ensemble along with the rest of the excellent cast, save for Richard Frederick.  Carolina Morones as Daryusha and Don Wood as Mikail fill out rôles of other inmates and the staff.  The relationship between Ragin and Mikhail adds a touch of comedy to this otherwise bleak play.  Ragin’s monologues are long but informative and interesting in that he touches on the medical profession and its sufferers as it existed in the late 1800s.  Freud was perfecting his works and will not publish his landmark “Interpretation of Dreams” until 1900.  The fear of death, which to an intensely intellectual people like the Russians, is an obsession of terror, and shadows all their literature,—it appears all through Tolstoy’s diary and novels,—is analysed in many forms by Chekhov. In Ward No. 6 Chekhov pays his respects to Tolstoy’s creed of self-denial, through the lips of the doctor’s favorite madman. (adapted from,”Wikipedia”)

Kudos to Gary Graves for his adaptation- rendering the novella into an eighty-five minute play.  Also to him and his creative staff for using a minimum of stage props (mostly chairs), and personal props and sound effects to bring this play to life.  An audience member may find him-or herself sitting beside someone wearing a shawl, shivering and moaning only to realize that the person is an actor in the play.  Or have an actor lean down next to you and fill a cup with water from a pitcher or bucket from the step below you.  In this way and more, his  company, Central Works, embodies the concept of intimate theatre.  Also because the staging area is a narrow rectangle with the audience on three sides, one is no more than 3 or 4 feet away.

Maxim Gorky,  one of Chekov’s closest friends, has written in “Fragments of Recollections” thus: “Anton Pavlovitch in his early stories was already able to reveal in the dim sea of banality its tragic humor; one has only to read his “humorous” stories with attention to see what a lot of cruel and disgusting things, behind the humorous words and situations, had been observed by the author with sorrow and were concealed by him. In each of his humorous stories I hear the quiet, deep sigh of a pure and human heart, the hopeless sigh of sympathy for men who do not know how to respect human dignity, who submit without any resistance to mere force, live like fish, believe in nothing but the necessity of swallowing every day as much thick soup as possible, and feel nothing but fear that some one, strong and insolent, will give them a hiding.”

“Ward 6” has been extended to November 18, so you have Sunday, Nov. 11 at 5 pm; Thu -Sat Nov 15-17. 8PM and Sunday 5 PM. to see this marvelous production.  Central Works is located in the Berkeley City Club on Durant off Shattuck.  BART. AC Transit .