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Dito van Reigersberg, James Sugg and Quinn Bauriedel in Chekhov Lizardbrain

The Pig Iron Theatre Company’s
Chekhov Lizardbrain
Participant of Under The Radar Festival 2010
January 6 – January 17, 2010

Reviewed by Justin D. Quackenbush

It’s January in New York. Post-holiday blues and seasonal affective disorder are in full swing, offering a veritable panoply of raw emotion. Yes, for some, a new year, a new decade and a subscription to “O” Magazine may yield a catalyst for adopting a healthy new attitude. Conversely though, many find their outlook more congruent with the weather: frosty, dismal.

Luckily, for theatregoers of the latter persuasion, there remains reason to celebrate. Now in it’s sixth year, the Under The Radar Festival offers a diverse collection of new theatre from around the world that is exciting, independent and experimental. The Festival presents a collection of work created by troupes, devoted and disgruntled with the existing state of theatre, who are seeking to deviate from the dreck that plagues many of our commercial stages.

The Pig Iron Theatre Company’s sold-out offering: Chekhov Lizardbrain, proves to be a ferocious rumble in the bowels of contemporary theatre. It’s a dazzling and fearless anomaly that defies convention and teases the mind. Rarely, does an entire piece work this well. The Pig Iron clan, refreshingly exempt from employing smoke and mirrors of any kind, has mastered theatre as a fine art. It is succinct in action, direction and design. Indeed, no facet of this gem has been left unpolished.

Ultimately, Chekhov Lizardbrain is a Weimar-esque exploration of the liminality of human consciousness, which slightly borrows plot from Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters and wraps it in a shroud of twenty-first-century psychology. Pig Iron sites American neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean’s theory of the triune brain as the co-inspiration, which postulates that the human brain is comprised of three parts: neocortex, limbic and reptilian. It is this “lizard” brain that controls instinctual survival behaviors and autonomic function.

The gifted James Sugg hypnotically morphs between Dimitri, the autistic protagonist and Chekhov Lizardbrain, his sort of Siamese-ego that’s lodged firmly in the id. Throughout the evening’s cirque-noir proceedings, Dimitri’s mind schisms between reality and sensory-infused fiction of painful memories with Chekhov Lizardbrain on standby as Emcee.

Dimitri and Chekhov Lizardbrain recall choice interactions with three brothers from his childhood, Sascha (Chad Lindsey), Nicholas (Dito van Reigersberg) and Peter (Quinn Bauriedel). Via quirky variations on a scene, we learn that after their mother’s death the brothers have quibbled over placing the house on the market and Dimitri’s interest in it has subjected him to witnessing their disagreements.

It is at once comedic and melancholic watching Dimitri struggle to make sense of the feud swirling about him. In one vignette, Sascha, Nicholas and Peter strut about in top hats and union-suits and expertly reduce Chekhovian dialogue to pantomime, dissolving any existing conflict into a series of elegant one-liners. In the following, they are literally three brothers in Oswego, NY who are engaged in a heated debate over the value of their shared estate. The duality therein is a fascinating snapshot of the nuances of individual perception.

The quartets jubilant delivery is well steeped in Anna Kiraly’s Samovar of a playing space. Lurking behind a red velvet curtain is a phosphorescent cave where the actors dance about in an implied game of cerebral hide and seek. Extending from this is a circular thrust of polished stanchions representing a psychological prophylactic for Dimitri, everything outside of which –yes including the audience- has the potential to inform his experience.

The simple, effective lighting design by James Clotfelter features dozens of red and white bulbs suspended by a haphazard tangle of white cords, vaguely reminiscent of the sulci and gyri of the cerebral cortex. The aesthetic is complimented by the haunting murmurings of Nick Kourtides sound design.

While celebrating its own obscurities and non-linear structure, Chekhov Lizardbrains text is astonishingly clean and precise. It makes no attempt to sacrifice its integrity for the audience’s comfort. It is an invitation to examine our own consciousness and suggests that the mind, no matter what it’s affliction, possesses the troubling inclination for humankind to become lost in the cavern of our own thoughts until someone, something or perhaps even our own imagination comes to rescue us.

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The Pig Iron Theatre Company has been creating original theatre in Philadelphia, PA since 1995. Their OBIE award winning work has been seen internationally at Edinburgh Fringe, throughout Europe and South America. For information on future productions visit

This production of Chekhov Lizardbrain was performed at the CSV Cultural Arts Center at 107 Suffolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington). It is a partner venue for the The Under The Radar Festival.

Under The Radar is produced by The Association of Performing Arts Presenters in tandem with The Public Theatre. For more information visit









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