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Giles puts mark on retelling of Tolstoy tale

| Monday, June 3, 2013, 7:09 p.m.
Martin Giles portrays Pozdynyshev in “The Kreutzer Sonata,” at the Henry Heymann Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Martin Giles portrays Pozdynyshev in “The Kreutzer Sonata,” at the Henry Heymann Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland.

Be wary of your seatmates when on a journey.

Travelers frequently form an instant intimacy with fellow voyagers and end up revealing secrets and inner conflicts they wouldn't share with their best friends.

Consider Nancy Harris' “The Kreutzer Sonata,” which Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is performing through June 22 in the Henry Heymann Theatre in Oakland.

As in Russian author Leo Tolstoy's 1889 novella “Kreutzer Sonata” on which the play is based, Pozdynyshev, a self-justifying, jealous, middle-age man, unburdens himself to fellow passengers while on a train to an unspecified destination somewhere in late 19th-century Russia.

What could be excruciatingly boring or embarrassing in real-life also can make for interesting drama.

Pozdynyshev reveals his version of the events, actions and attitudes that led to the violent ending of his marriage along with his philosophical takes on marriage, women, child-rearing and sex.

Anyone who has struggled through Tolstoy's opinionated, extended journey across this terrain will appreciate that Harris has turned it into an 80-minute jaunt that retains the salient points of Tolstoy's ideas while putting the focus on unfolding events of the couple's relationship from first meeting to final parting.

In this single-actor short play, the ever-interesting Martin Giles creates Pozdynyshev as a self-centered, entitled aristocrat who reveals far more than he thinks while explaining events from his point of view.

For instance, Pozdynyshev never gives his wife a name. He refers to her as “my wife.”

The audience becomes his fellow passengers in the rail compartment as he relates his story.

While explaining how he became the victim of an affair between his wife and his friend, he also reveals his jealousy, unreasoning suspicions and general insecurities, much to the audience's amusement.

As he narrates the story of his marriage, he's haunted by snippets of the Kreutzer Sonata, a duet for piano and violin that signifies the real, nonphysical betrayal engaged in by his wife and friend.

Giles, a veteran of several single-performer dramas, has a narrator's talent for making these characters and events come alive. So it's somewhat puzzling why director Alan Stanford and the design team felt it was necessary to embellish the surroundings with a profusion of projections and an abundance of cloth-draped furniture.

The furniture does represent multiple locations in the tale and gives Giles' character a reason to move around the stage.

And images of Alaine Fink and Juan Jaramillo, the pianist and violinist who appear briefly as Pozdynyshev's wife and his friend Trukhachevski, only marginally enhance our understanding of the bond that may exist between them. Others, such as a blazing fireplace or a wooden door projected on an upturned rowboat only distract from the recounting of events.

The artistic team might have been better advised to trust Harris' script and Giles' talents to convey the story's drama, interest, humor and delicious ambiguity.

“The Kreutzer Sonata” continues through June 22 at the Henry Heymann Theatre in Oakland at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays and June 22; 7 p.m. June 18. Admission is $25 to $48. Details: 412-561-6000 or

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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