This is an example of a show that's better in theory than practice. It's nice that someone decided to give Chekhov's lesser-known works an airing amid the myriad Three Sisterses and Uncle Vanyas produced Off-Off-Broadway every year, and it was a clever idea to create a thematic compilation. But any Chekhov is a difficult undertaking and likely to falter if the company does not invest heavily in dramaturgy and training its actors.
One of those deficiencies, or both, appeared to be the culprit in Creative Artists Laboratory's evening of one-acts, Chekhov's Take on Love and Marriage. It ran just over two hours including intermission, but it seemed longer since none of the stories was particularly compelling. The show was overstuffed as well: a one-act series can with difficulty support four components, and this one had five.
The Proposal deals with a man whose attempt to ask a woman to marry him deteriorates into disputes over land ownership and hunting dogs. The Anniversary takes place in a bank president's office, where a chatty wife and a stubborn customer keep interrupting business. A Tragic Role is essentially a monologue by a man at the end of his rope. The Chorus Girl involves a wife's visit to her husband's mistress. And The Bear details one young widow's emergence from mourning.
The Chorus Girl was probably the best of the lot, since it was the shortest and easiest to follow. The Anniversary and A Tragic Role rambled aimlessly. They also didn't reveal insights into love and marriage. The show might, in fact, be more accurately named Chekhov's Take on Physical Ailments and Pent-up Anger, as those issues seemed to figure more prominently in the plays. Virtually every piece featured someone complaining about a medical condition or blowing his stack.
It may not have been the directors' intention, but the plays resembled screwball comedies-with furniture flying, people falling over, and couples fighting one moment, kissing the next. There was too much yelling and too many chairs and people being knocked to the floor. Although Chekhov's one-acts are lighter than his full-length plays, the boisterousness and physicality seemed out of place. And it was hard to tell if that was the deliberate staging or just the result of amateurish production values.
Among the actors, nobody was so strong or so weak as to deserve special mention. Michael Jalbert was probably the most "Chekhovian" (i.e., haplessly and hopelessly in love), Lisa Miller made an elegant widow, and Matt Samson provided laughs with his oft-repeated line "...or my name is not [pause] Shipuchin." The cast also featured Jacqueline Marshall, Jaime Sheedy, Beverly Bond, Davis Rushing, Elena Zaretsky, Dylan Hildreth, Jennifer Shirley, Erin Shull, Dean Noble, and Claire Peng. The program did not credit anyone with set, costumes, lighting, or translation.
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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri