Chekhov Yourself: Review of Kore Productions and EMU Productions’ The Bear and The Proposal
When one thinks of Anton Checkhov, four plays spring to mind, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchid, Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya, all of which are canon staples, and rightly so. However, Checkhov, in his own time was also lauded as the master of the short story, so it would be of interest to see some of his earlier, shorter dramatic pieces. The Bear and The Proposal are two such works, each about twenty minutes in length, written in 1888.
The Bear tells the story of Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov, who is owed money by the grieving widow, Elena Ivanovna Popova. There is some disagreement as to when the money can be paid and he refuses to leave the house until payment is made. The Proposal features a bungled attempt by Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov to ask for Natalia Stepanovna’s hand in marriage. The proposal is never made because the pair end up engaged in heated arguments over trivial matters – who owns what pieces of land, or whose hunting dog is better. Each piece is essentially played as a sketch in the vaudeville tradition. Although both were popular in their own time, Checkhov himself was always quite disparaging of their literary worth. It’s easy to see why this is the case: neither piece has any real inherent interest as regards to plot or character, and both and very predictable. The real appeal would be to see them expertly performed, but here, alas, this is not the case.
Abbie Vane-Tempest plays Elena Ivanovna Popova, a landowning widow in The Bear and Natalia Stepanovna, the daughter of Stepanovich in The Proposal. Vane-Tempest brought energy to both roles but focused too heavily on the delivery of her lines which meant that she had trouble staying in character. Consequently, some of the comedy was lost because of too much self-awareness on her part.
Thomas Burt plays Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov, a middle-aged landowner in The Bear and Stepan Stepanovitch Chubokov the father of Natalia in The Proposal. Burt has the best voice of the three actors on stage, though he lacked the necessary gravitas to maintain the authority of either role.
Logan McArthur plays Luka, a footman in The Bear and Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov the somewhat suspicious neighbour in The Proposal. McArthur is evidently a trained actor and his instincts are right though he was forced to rely on gimmick where the roles (particularly the footman) gave him very little. McArthur delivers comedy well and was generally a solid presence on stage.
The directorial choices of Kyle Stephens’ were also a bit lack luster. Of particular note is the short video that prefaces The Bear. Here we are given a quick rundown of the demise of Elena’s husband, with the words, Cigarettes, Alcohol and Drugs flashing across the screen. Maybe this was intended to be ironic, but it has the effect of looking like a high school produced video on social dangers. On top of which it does not offer any information that isn’t made instantly apparent by the play’s opening dialogue. Peculiar script additions have also been made, with references to laptops and mobile phones, while the rest of the piece has remained firmly planted in the traditional Russian aristocracy. Further, there was a jumble of period props such as a modern pack of cigarettes and alongside a classic decanter. Such instances feel careless, rather than deliberate and speak to a lack of clarity in the directorial vision. Taken together it makes for a messily conceived production.
The Bear and The Proposal has finished its limited run at King Street Theatre. For more information on this show and Kore Productions see: http://www.koreproductions.com.au/