NEW YORK — As the audience settles in, a woman dressed in mournful black paces slowly along the wall at the back of the stage. She is, we will discover, the great Russian actress Olga Knipper, widow of Anton Chekhov. It is six months after his death, and she is in a St. Petersburg rehearsal room, waiting for the rest of the company.
The play is Guillermo Calderón’s “Neva,” and it is set on Bloody Sunday, 1905, the day scores of peacefully protesting workers were massacred by government forces on their way to the city’s Winter Palace, where they’d sought to deliver a message to the czar. Only two of Olga’s colleagues arrive at rehearsal that afternoon: an actor, Aleko, and an actress, Masha. In the darkened room, the three of them attend to their craft, insulated from the violence unfolding in the streets.