THE BEAR by Anton Chekhov, directed by Christopher Morris, with David Ferry, Nicole St. Martin and Robert Nasmith. Presented by Preface Theatre and the Art Gallery of Ontario at the Grange (317 Dundas West). Runs to January 22, Thursday-Saturday 2 pm. $20, stu/srs/AGO members/Equity $16 (includes admission to AGO). 416-979-6608. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Director Christopher Morris's program note for Chekhov 's The Bear emphasizes the idea of foolishness, but his production of the 40-minute play in fact points out the humanity of the characters as well as their comic fixations.
The young widow Popova ( Nicole St. Martin ), who hasn't left the house since her husband's death a year earlier, is suddenly confronted by Smirnoff ( David Ferry ), an overbearing - yes, he's the bear of the title - man come to collect outstanding debts unpaid by Popova's late husband. Despite the efforts of a servant ( Robert Nasmith ) to keep them apart and maintain calm in the household, the two fight, which is no surprise, and fall quickly in love, which is.
With the audience on two sides of the action in the production, staged in the historic Grange, Morris plays up the immediacy of the characters' feelings and their mannered interaction. Ferry's huge-emotioned, crude Smirnoff is a Tartar-like figure with the air of a whirlwind, as impetuous in his demand for money as in his declaration of love. Because he's given to feeling sorry for himself and turning maudlin when romance is on his mind, it's hard to know whether Popova seduces him or he does it to himself.
St. Martin's widow, knowing her dead partner was as unfaithful to her as she intends to be true to his memory, is the more restrained. Though she's given to archly raising her eyebrows in disdain, when pushed into action she moves with the speed of lit gunpowder. In contrast, Nasmith's laconic, mostly even-tempered but ineffectual Luka offers some momentary calm in the robust production.
Gillian Gallow's costumes have their own entertaining theatrics. Straw comes out of the disreputable Smirnoff's pockets, and uncollected bills are attached to his jacket shoulders. The mourning Popova, gowned in yards of grey and black, with huge leg-of-mutton sleeves and black beads, looks like a well-off professional mourner, determined to impress everyone - herself included - with her display of sadness.