Sanctuary Theatre, the young Adams-Morgan troupe that devotes itself to presenting transcultural theater, opens its fourth season with a Russian accent. "An Evening With Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky" is an unusual program of four short plays, translated and adapted by Polish writer Thaddeus Wittlin, a Washington resident.
Originally written as short stories, the Chekhov sketches provide the evening's more theatrically traditional moments, and Wittlin successfully maintains Chekhov's dry, detached humor. In "The Avenger," an overworked cuckold painstakingly deliberates his revenge, but his furious resolve slowly -- and comically -- crumbles. In "The Living Chronology," a bureaucrat laments his town's artistic impoverishment, remembering the glory days when great artists routinely visited his home. But his pleasant reminiscences are marred by the recollection that each artistic performance was also an occasion for his wife's infidelity.
The Gorky plays are brief "improvisations," and director Michael Oliver obliges with colorful, imaginative forays into surrealism. The sardonic scenario of "The Drunk" is like "Pee-wee's Playhouse" reupholstered in "Blue Velvet" -- a drunk returns home, loudly bemoaning his lost love, and is taunted by his own furniture as his apartment comes malevolently to life. "The Worker Blablayev" portrays the nightmare of an idealistic Party member -- he finds himself deluged by the complaints of the people (played by a series of progressively larger puppets) but can answer them only with useless rhetoric about the need to organize.
Sanctuary's nontraditional casting pays off nicely here, and the pieces are marked by a detailed, unhurried acting style, with particularly thoughtful work by Carlos Juan Gonzalez and Haimanot Alemu. Sanctuary, which recently became a member of the League of Washington Theaters, is also showing increased attention to production values. Housed in a church, the theater has an appropriately European feel, and the clever, economical set by Steve Siegel incorporates a black backdrop that suggests different rooms with the manipulation of a few strips of day-glo fabric.
An Evening With Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky, translated and adapted by Thaddeus Wittlin. Directed by Michael Oliver; settings, Steve Siegel; lighting, Oliver Hinson; puppets, Lynnie Raybuck; costumes, Gena Wittlin. With Haimanot Alemu, Gene Anderson, Wessen Asfaw, Nancy Baker, Chris Bauer, Elizabeth Bruce, Carlos Juan Gonzalez, Nick Fillah, Suzanne Knapik, Kimberly Little, Antoinette Pineau, Laura Rita Strausser. At Sanctuary Theatre through Oct. 25.