OCTOBER 2023 | Volume 232
by Anton Chekhov
The Smoking Gun Collective
Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St.
Oct. 28-Nov. 12
Three short comedies by Anton Chekhov have been turned into a show titled Troika, presented by the Smoking Gun Collective at the Jericho Arts Centre. The comedies–“The Proposal", “On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco", and “The Bear” –written by Chekhov relatively early in his career, feature the hyperbolized, erratic characters typical of his work. The delightful staging of the three short one-act plays will have audiences chuckling even after the show.
The first play, “The Proposal", is about hypochondriac Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov (Chris Walters), who wants to ask his neighbour, Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov (Jack Rigg), for his daughter Natalya Stepanovna’s hand in marriage (Rebecca Husain). Lomov is dressed in a formal suit for the super special occasion but cannot stop his heart from palpitating. Chubukov, however, is willing to ignore the suitor’s erratic behaviour to get his daughter married.
But if only things were this easy. Lomov’s big ego and nervous outburst become a problem and collect laughs throughout the piece. Walters’ vibrant enactment of Lomov is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and makes this the best of the three playlets.
“On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco", a speech performed by the show’s director William Davis himself, is about a man named Ivan Ivanovich Nyukhin who, while giving a speech at a university, falters and reveals a little more than necessary. Being a smoker, the speaker has been asked by his wife to speak on the harmful effects of tobacco. Davis’ impassioned performance makes the most out of the “controlling wife and helpless husband” jokes.
The last play, “The Bear", tells the story of a mourning widow, Elena Ivanovna Popova (Martha Ansfield-Scrase), decked out in a black gown and veil. Having lost her husband seven months ago, she refuses to indulge in worldly pleasures or even receive guests. Turns out her husband owes twelve hundred roubles to Gregory Smirnov (John Prowse). In urgent need of this money, he comes to collect it from her and refuses to leave when she tells him she does not have any to spare until the day after next.
What unfolds is Smirnov’s soliloquy about women’s inconstancy, which is met with more emotional fits from the widow. The dynamic is held together by Scrase and Prowse until the expected yet amusing climax.
The three one-acts take place in similar settings with minor changes to the stage between the three (set design by Linda Begg). Costumes, designed by Julie White, are as perfect as they can be – historical but minimal. The music by Emmanuelle Davis, especially the Can Can from ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ by Jacques Offenbach before and after the show, sets the tone for the merry buffoonery.
William Davis, having directed Chekhov’s plays before along with many others in his long career, shows how easy it is to enjoy Chekhov’s writing with a few characters and props, letting the simple humour shine the way it has for more than a century. His belief in the entertaining eccentricities of these characters is just as strong as Chekhov’s was – no holds barred when it comes to laughing at the nature of humans.
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