'Chekhov's Shorts- adapted by Helen Juvonen and Tyler J. Seguin
Guild Festival Theatre
Guild Festival Theatre
(Photo Credit: Raph Nogal)
It’s a night of rollicking laughter under the stars as the themes of love, marriage and self-awareness are skewered from every corner. The Guild Festival Theatre presents an engaging adaptation of four Chekhov comedies performed on the beautiful grounds of the Guild Park in Scarborough. For eleven years, the Guild Festival has brought to life classical material through creative adaptation making it accessible to contemporary audiences.
This production is a brilliant example.
Director Tyler J. Seguin refers to a letter where Chekhov suggests that these plays are “vaudevilles.” Vaudevillian theatre has been around for decades in various forms and is marked by music, comedy, dance and full-throated mayhem. Along with acting, dancing and singing, this genre requires impeccable timing, comic genius and unbridled fervour.
The soul of this production is the cast – Ada Balon, Chris Vergara, Stephanie Folkins – each displaying a full measure of the afore-mentioned skills.
We begin with ‘The Proposal’ where a hypochondriac (played with genius physical humour by Chris Vergara) desperately tries to propose to a fire-brand played by Stephanie Folkins. Her eyes are furtive and menacing, but she is also self-conscious as she hilariously grabs at her skirts until it becomes embarrassing. Ada Balon plays, with brio, the rumpled father wearing a bald cap that looks more like an old lunch bag. Mr. Vergara’s “waffling” soliloquy is a testimony to the chaos that ends the piece.
In ‘The Tragicomic Hero’ Stephanie Folkins takes over. With an outsized bouncy moustache, she plays the contorted husband who is forced to do everything. As they move to a cottage where relaxation is the primary activity, the husband complains that he is, ironically, a victim of overwork. A brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan-style song lists the myriad of complaints.
In ‘The Dangers of Tobacco’ Ada Balon takes over. Shuffling to centre stage, Ms. Balon plays an Albert Einsteinish lecturer except she reduces science to ideas that are “approximate.” Lurching from inanity to inanity, he cannot keep on track with the title’s subject as he descends into a sad discourse of life.
The final piece is ‘The Bear’ where the cast’s considerable talents are on full display. Mr. Vergara plays the widow whose overbearing grieving has an undercurrent of playful falseness. Confronted by a landowner over a debt, the flustered widow sends the piece into a soap opera on steroids. They argue, plan to duel and fall in love – we think. The cynical view of relationships is encapsulated when it is suggested that love is a “lousy trick of nature.”
As mentioned, all the elements of vaudeville pull each of the short plays together. From upright piano to accordion, music celebrates the inanity of these vacuous caricatures. Chekhov uses humour to divine-human relationships and he certainly would have been pleased with the Guild Festival’s send-up. Writing is the heart of any play, but this exceptional cast is the soul of this production.
As an audience – we benefit!
‘Chekhov’s Shorts’ – Anton Chekhov, adapted by Helen Juvonen and Tyler J. Seguin
Performers – Ada Balon, Chris Vergara, Stephanie Folkins
Director – Tyler J. Seguin
Production designer – Kalina Popova
Runs through August 28, 2022 at 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough
Tickets at – www.guildfestivaltheatre.ca