“Brevity is the soul of wit,” or so they say. And “a little Chekhov comedy goes a long way,” as they also say. (And if they don’t say that, they should.)
Combine these adages together, and you have the basic rules for building an evening of one-act Anton Chekhov comedies — at least in my mind. The scrappy — and ambitious — St. Sebastian troupe may have benefited from this advice when producing their evening entitled Chekhov’s Shorts.
I have to admit, this was my first exposure to Chekhov: the comedian. And after sitting through only a couple of his one-act comedies, the following themes quickly emerge:
- Body maladies (“Oh, my heart!,” “I’m having palpitations!,” “My leg is numb!,” etc.) are supposedly hysterical.
- Uptight men being manipulated by pushy women provide ideal setups for slapsticky disasters.
- Seemingly superior people can easily be knocked down a peg or two by the common man.
In addition, subtext is virtually non-existent — characters freely address the audience about how they are feeling and what they’re thinking (i.e. “Oh, she makes me so mad!,” “Oh, unhappy man that I am!”). This is late 19th century farce, after all.
If you go for that kind of thing, then you’ll love all three hours of St. Sebastian players evening of “shortz.” Yes, you heard that right: three hours (the program inaccurately says 2.5 hours). It’s epic. And unfortunate — as your mind is so numb by the end, you may have forgotten some of the very fine performances and genuinely humorous moments.
For example, director Renae Stone took The Celebration — a wonderfully satirical piece about a pompous bank director who’s preparing for a big celebration in his honor, only to have it all disrupted by…pushy women — and set it in the 50’s. Very “Mad Men” and very farce. A high point of the evening, with deliriously zany performances from Ron Thomas, Eric Prahl, Andrea Welton and the scene-stealing April Taylor.
Drama, in act “two point five,” (that’s what the program says) provided another bright spot. Essentially a two-character piece about a pushy amateur female playwright (a wonderfully grand Danielle Forrester) who weasels her way into the office of well respected author, Pavel (the delightfully droll Prahl) to read her new play, this would have served as an ideal conclusion for the night. I say this, because after dutifully listening to the overbearing playwright go on and on and on, Pavel has his fill, and…well, let’s just say the conclusion pretty much summed up my feelings for the evening.
Unfortunately, there are two additional one-acts that follow Drama. In total, there are three intermissions and seven pieces.
Again: the length of the show undermines the high points. And what I saw last night isn’t even all of it — on Thursdays and Sundays, an additional one-act, Swan Song, is added to the lineup. Which begs the question: Why? Especially considering Swan Song isn’t even a comedic piece.
Whoever was responsible for pulling this production together (the producer, perhaps?) should have stepped back and trimmed, trimmed, trimmed. As currently presented, the evening is a chore.
“Chekhov’s Shorts” plays through March 14 at St. Sebastian Players, located at St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W Diversey Parkway, Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit saintsebastianplayers.org