CHEKHOV LONGS IN THE RAVINE by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith with the company, directed by Gilmour and Smith, with Colombe Demers, Ann-Marie Kerr, Liisa Repo-Martell, Smith and Gilmour. Presented by Theatre Smith-Gilmour in association with Factory at the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst). Previews begin Friday (February 1), opens Tuesday (February 5) and runs to March 3, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Sunday pwyc-$18. 416-504-9971.
theatre smith-gilmour sure knows how to make Chekhov work for them. The company's award-winning Chekhov's Shorts, adapted from the Russian writer's brief fiction, sold out several Toronto runs before touring North America and going to Hong Kong.Now Smith-Gilmour applies its movement-based, clown-inspired technique to a novella, In The Ravine, and sews up a new show called Chekhov Longs, about a turn-of-the-century Russian family of richly drawn figures. The work's been created over a long period by the performers.
Like artistic directors Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour, Ann-Marie Kerr studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq, whose work has inspired a number of Toronto companies. She was, in fact, studying with Lecoq when he died in 1999.
When she auditioned for Chekhov Longs nearly two years ago, Kerr had to recreate every character from In The Ravine and tell the whole story herself.
"It was an amazing exercise," she recalls with a breezy laugh she couldn't have conjured at the time. Kerr's work with Lecoq got her through it.
Kerr winds up playing several figures in Chekhov Longs, including the young second wife of the family patriarch, the mother-in-law of one son and various peasants. Their ability to morph quickly from one figure to another is a key to the company's success with the Russian writer.
"What we want to capture is Chekhov's humanity, the way his characters live in a hopeless environment by relying on work, faith and the natural world," says Kerr. "We're aiming for lovely, light moments, despite the darkness of these people's existence."
She talks with such energy that I get the image of an ever-burning flame inside her, turned up to lighthouse intensity when she's passionate.
With Smith-Gilmour, clown techniques are all about ensemble, she explains, about not letting others down, and therefore setting aside one's ego as an actor. Lecoq insisted on it.
"His work is about creating everything out of nothing, about finding the group dynamic so that all we do is a catalyst for invention and creativity."
The skill served Kerr well in her last Toronto show, the 2001 Fringe hit Splice, which she created and performed with three other Lecoq grads. It began here in Toronto, toured the country and is set for New York next summer.
"Our goal was to present the essence of 28 films onstage, and in fact we worked in 32 shows in just under an hour, from Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz to Hitchcock and Spielberg.
"It required a precision I've never needed before, such as whether you hold a mini-flashlight here," she points her finger in one direction, "or here," she says, moving her finger fractionally to the left.
"I've never been so challenged backstage. In the wings, we felt we were facing the fastest race we'd ever run. There was more happening behind the scenes than on the stage."firstname.lastname@example.org