The College of Staten Island hosts a staged reading of I take your hand in mine, a play based on the love letters of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and his actress-wife Olga Knipper, starring Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich, in the Center for the Arts Williamson Theatre on Saturday, December 1 at 8:00pm. A Q&A with the actors follows the performance.

I take your hand in mine is an intimate glimpse into the lives of two lovers, Chekhov and Knipper. We are voyeurs to the tenderness and longing in their too brief marriage, which struggles against their separation, through playwright Carol Rocamora’s translation and dramatization of the more than 400 love letters they shared.

Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis and her husband Louis Zorich star in this unique vehicle, well suited to the talents of these successful artists and devotees of Chekhov. They bring to life the passion that bound these two great superstars at the dawning of the 20th century”“he an internationally famous playwright, and she the renowned leading lady of the acclaimed Moscow Art Theatre, where she created many of the starring female roles in his plays.

It was Olympia Dukakis who realized the potential in their story, and urged Ms. Rocamora to create this unique theatrical vehicle for herself and Zorich. Prepared by their lifelong relationship with Chekhov’s plays, having performed virtually all of them at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and directed some of them as well, these two performers were ready to explore the real people behind their inspiration.

Chekhov (1860-1904) already had an advanced case of tuberculosis when he met Knipper (1868-1959) in the fall of 1898. She was rehearsing the role of Arkadina in Chekhov’s revised version of The Seagull for the newly formed Moscow Art Theatre, under the celebrated director Constantin Stanislavski. The production’s success”“and her personal triumph in it (“Miss Knipper shines in the superb ensemble!”)”“ meant that she spent the theater seasons in Moscow while he, under doctor’s orders, spent the long Russian winters in the warmer climate of Yalta. These separations, which continued after their marriage in 1901, made letters their primary form of communication for months at a time. The letters, which Anton signed “I take your hand in mine,” tell of his love and passion for Olga, and of the closeness and tragedies in their marriage”“as when Olga suffers a miscarriage and comes close to death in Moscow.

The play sheds light on the artistic and emotional life of Russia’s greatest playwright as he crafted his two last great plays, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, while succumbing to his fatal tuberculosis. “I’m writing a play [The Three Sisters]”“well, not exactly a play, a sort of hodgepodge. There are so many characters I get confused.” She writes to him for guidance and direction of the plays, while he rails that “I cannot let Stanislavski ruin this play!”¦The doctors be damned. I’m coming to Moscow for rehearsals”¦”

They reveal Olga’s endearing love and devotion as she takes Anton on his final journey to a German health resort where he dies with her beside him. “Dearest darling, my sweet love, let me speak some words of tenderness, let me stroke your soft, silky hair and look into your dear, shining, loving eyes. If only I knew whether you felt you were going to die. I think you did, vaguely perhaps, but you did “¦ Dearest, dearest one, where are you now ?”

I take your hand in mine is the passionate and enduring record of their love affair.

Tickets for I take your hand in mine at the Center for the Arts, College of Staten Island, are $40, $45, and $50 and can be purchased through the CFA Box Office, 718.982.ARTS (2787) or online at

This evening is presented in association with the CSI Parthenon Project, which aims to restore and exhibit a collection of rare casts of the Parthenon Frieze that CSI has acquired.

The CSI Center for the Arts 2007-2008 season is supported in part with funds from the Richmond County Savings Foundation; a gift by the Carnegie Corporation (made possible by an anonymous donor); the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; the Office of the Borough President, Hon. James P. Molinaro; the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts; the Staten Island Rotary Foundation; the College of Staten Island; and by our many business and individual patrons.

Directions to the Center for the Arts:

By Car: The Center for the Arts is located within a few minutes’ drive from the Verrazano, Goethals, and Bayonne Bridges. Take I-278 (the Staten Island Expressway and exit at Victory Boulevard, proceed to campus parking lots 1 and 2. Parking is free.

By Mass Transit: The Center for the Arts is served by the S62, S61, S93, and S53 buses, which are coordinated with the Staten Island Ferry schedule.