ABSOLUTELY CHEKHOV by Anton Chekhov, Susan Coyne and Jason Sherman. See listings, page 84. Rating: NNNN
Soulpepper Theatre's infatuation with Anton Chekhov continues with Absolutely Chekhov, featuring a newly adapted quartet of his short works plus a piece of dramatic biography by Susan Coyne and Jason Sherman. If the result isn't the theatrical equivalent of poker's full house, it certainly wins as four of a kind.The Old Business, the premiere, looks at a disillusioned Chekhov (Diego Matamoros) following the disastrous premiere of The Seagull, when he's accused by his producer (Victor Ertmanis) and a former lover (Nicole Underhay) of exploiting their lives for his plays. The Old Business is well-planned Chekhov nouveau, with fine performances, some clever thoughts on the artist and the critic, and direction by Leah Cherniak that catches the master's blend of laughter and tears.
The Dangers Of Tobacco, adapted by Michael Healey and directed by Albert Schultz, features a wonderful performance by Joe Ziegler as an uncomfortable lecturer who reveals more about his home life than his chosen topic, though sometimes the acting is funnier than the material.
In Adam Pettle's adaptation of The Tragic Role, directed by Daniel Brooks, Matamoros returns in another comic turn as a beleaguered man cataloguing to his brother (Ziegler) the onerous duties everyone heaps on him.
There's richer work in Sherman's colloquial version of The Bear, with Martha Burns and Oliver Becker as antagonists whose warring strikes sexual sparks. The electricity between the determined widow and the misogynist bully is clear from the start, and William Webster contributes a fine cameo as a cowed servant.
Only the final episode, Swan Song, misses. With Webster as an old actor reliving the joys and sadnesses of a life on the stage and Oliver Dennis as his one-man audience, it aims to be bittersweet, but in David French's heavy-handed adaptation it's simply maudlin. firstname.lastname@example.org review