afterplay by Brian Friel, directed by Daryl Cloran, with Simon Bradbury and Helen Taylor. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs to September 20, various days 11:30 am (lunchtime show). $20. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Ever wonder what happens to characters after the play is over? In Afterplay (get the title?), Brian Friel imagines for us, as he pairs Sonya and Andrey from, respectively, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters. The two strangers, now middle-aged - it's about 20 years after their plays have ended - meet in a humble Moscow restaurant and, in true Chekhovian fashion, gradually reveal the heartbreaking truths about their lives.
Violinist Andrey ( Simon Bradbury ) is in Moscow, but it's hardly the fabled, romantic city of his siblings' childhood. Sonya ( Helen Taylor ), alone after her uncle's death, is immersed in paperwork and holding onto her illusions despite the bleak reality around her.
Friel perfectly captures Chekhov's humour and bittersweet tone, and while there are lots of "guess what happened to " surprises for fans of the Russian master, it's easy to enjoy the 50-minute play without knowing the earlier works.
Director Daryl Cloran stages the lunchtime show with dignity and grace, and both actors inhabit their roles fully.
You can see the wheels turning in Taylor's practical and methodically minded Sonya, while Bradbury suggests the clown who's nearly defeated in life yet glimpses a hope of renewal in another person.
A glowing tribute to Chekhov.