This double bill presented two very different approaches to Chekhov. The cast of On The High Road was already hard at work when the audience entered the theater -- several characters were strewn about the floor, surrounding a bar, and most were drinking. Before it was revealed who they were and why they were there, it was clear that all were unhappy. They moaned, they groaned, they bickered, they complained -- not a pleasant company to be in.
They are in this tavern waiting out a storm, this group that is part No Exit and part subway at rush hour. They are stock characters, and each has his or her moments (or longer) of self-expression or revelation -- but not much of what they reveal is extraordinary. There's the sick priest who says he's on his way to Jerusalem; the religious fanatic; the bum tormented by a radical; the man whittling at a branch; the bartender offering (or denying) the salve of vodka -- all is highly, and heavily, symbolic.
New arrivals also bring their baggage: in one case a hatchet, in another case some revelatory information. When it is revealed that the bum has a secret, tragic past, it is unsurprising when that past walks through the door. All of this is couched in the archaic language of this translation ("blackguard," "frump," "too late I am").
Perhaps On the High Road is a lesser Chekhov effort, but it was not helped by the halting pace in which it was played. Director Tanya Klein gave the piece a personality but no character -- it progressed in fits and starts. The cast tried hard, but it struggled uphill. The play fell victim to its own torpor, and the disparate elements didn't cohere. John Reiniers was effective as the bum, as was John Naughton as the priest and Robin Colestro as the fanatic. Also featured were Dean Negri, Matthew Hubbard, Brian Guzman, Chantel Gonzalez, Darrell Kirton, and Simone Kowitz.
The Bear, which was played as a fast-paced comedy, was far more lively. This is a slight piece, centering on a widow (Tanya Klein) with an unhealthy attachment to her late husband's memory and his ashes, and the man (Jon Cable) who arrives to collect a debt and won't be put off because no cash is currently on hand. The two clash, bicker, and spar, with life-changing results for both. The performances made this play, with fine comic exasperation by Cable as the bear, who growls and paces, Klein as the immovable object, and Mindy Cassle as the maid whose dismay at the intrusion is slapstick made human. This comic treatise on men and women is absurd, but D.A.G. Burgos, by directing it for speed, mined its humor.
Acting: 1 (2 for The Bear)
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Copyright 1997 David Mackler