Closing out their 2022 season, the Guild Festival Theatre presents Chekhov’s Shorts. Veering away from his familiar classics, artistic directors Tyler J. Seguin and Helen Juvonen have adapted some of Anton Chekhov’s lesser known shorts. With original songs and a vaudevillian framing device, these four goofy sketches offer up adorably eccentric characters.
Director Seguin and production designer Kalina Popova have crafted a romantic, music-hall vibe with plenty of comic spectacle. A towering handful of stacked parcels teeters precariously! Hand painted guns are brandished for farcical duels! Cartoonish moustaches twitch hilariously as emotions flair!
Chris Vergara, Stephanie Folkins and Ada Balon have a scrappy and playful dynamic. They foster a communal atmosphere with the audience that pays off beautifully throughout. Their antics are over-the-top—grand gestures and zany accents—but they pull us into these outlandish scenarios with intense charm and charisma.
The Proposal sees a nervous young man ask a crotchety old neighbour for his daughter’s hand in marriage, though the would-be mates get caught up in ludicrous disputes over land-ownership and whose dog is the best. Vergara is a lovably awkward suitor in the throes of conflicting emotions and a heart murmur to boot! Folkins matches his energy as a proud yet infatuated goof.
In The Tragicomic Hero (here dubbed Histerical His-terics), a put-upon husband laments his life of constant errands for wife and daughters. Those impressive moustaches almost steal this scene.
The Dangers of Tobacco takes the form of a clumsy lecture—Smoking Is Bad For You—where another long-suffering husband and father confides to us how miserable his life has become. This feels like essential Chekhov—where giddy, buoyant comedy gradually reveals a deep sadness and regret. Balon plays this bit with persuasive nuance and gives us the most affecting moments.
We are back to whimsical frivolity with The Bear, where a flamboyantly grieving widow wins the heart of a cynical man who has sworn off love. This one didn’t quite win me over, the delivery here is missing that endearing warmth that defines the rest of performance.
These madcap stories are held together by the interstitial segments where our competitive thespian trio discuss the absurdity of love while preparing their scenes. The vaudeville aesthetic is completed by hand-painted signs declaring each episode’s title and musical accompaniment on piano, accordion and tambourine!
It’s all very silly, but there’s a sweetness and human truth that squeaks through. Chekhov resonates. We recognize our own wretchedness and laugh at it. Chekhov’s Shorts really tickled me.