CHEKHOV'S HEARTACHE adapted from Anton Chekhov's short stories, created and directed by Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith (Theatre Smith-Gilmour). At the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst). To October 22. Pwyc-$30. 416-504-9971. See Continuing, page 90. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
You'd think that after years of Slavic melancholy, Theatre Smith-Gilmour would have had enough. Enough poverty and peasantry. Enough drunken sorrow and colourless gruel. Enough plain costumes and minimal sets.
But no, the company's Chekhov's Heartache , the latest project in their seven-year-long tribute to the literary giant, burns with the intensity of an early love affair rather than the despairing restlessness of the seven-year itch.
The first short story they've adapted is the classic Grief, in which a carriage driver ( Dean Gilmour ) abandoned by human listeners confides his sadness over his son's death to his horse. The two longer pieces are variations on this theme of private sorrow; the narratives trace the journeys of families thrown into moral and financial destitution.
As the acrobatic quartet of performers (Gilmour, Michele Smith , Claire Calnan and Monica Dottor ) tango from character to character using only buckets and headwear to distinguish them, they lighten the sombre themes of freedom and deprivation. Many of the most poignant exchanges occur when characters are half-asleep, at night, and these moments are so well paced that actors and audience alike fall under the spell of darkness's vulnerability.
Chekhov's themes of the private humiliations, losses and sorrows each of us carries are dramatized by characters from different classes and with various religious beliefs. There are no villains in his world, only unhappy, misled creatures who, while well-meaning, mess up the lives of others by imposing their own morals and values onto them. There are also no heroes; heroism in Chekhov means survival.
These themes are evocatively handled by the outstanding ensemble, who evoke the natural and animal world (horses, birds, sheep) with the simplest means.
Brimming with humanity, Chekhov's Heartache is a must-see for anyone either mourning or celebrating life.