DR. CHEKHOV: WARD 6 (Theatre Smith-Gilmour/Factory). See Openings.
Sometimes artistic couplings produce magic. Think of the two Daniels, Brooks and MacIvor. Or playwright Morwyn Brebner and director Eda Holmes. In recent years, Theatre Smith-Gilmour and Anton Chekhov have joined that select list. The company's adaptations of Chekhov's little-known fiction, Chekhov's Shorts and Chekhov Longs... In The Ravine, have won eight Doras and shown how expressive movement- and image-based theatre can be.
The company's wrapping up a trilogy with Dr. Chekhov: Ward 6, a grimly comic piece set in a small Russian town's asylum, where the patients appear to be more knowledgeable than their keepers.
"Chekhov's story Ward 6, based on a trip to Siberia, called to us after our last show," remembers Dean Gilmour. "The extraordinary premise - a genius lunatic meets a doctor who has never suffered - took us on a journey into darkness. In its discussion of the poor who suffer and the rich who don't want to know about that suffering, the story is as relevant today as it was a century ago."
Working as an ensemble, the cast has been creating Ward 6 for nearly 18 months. As Gilmour notes, "If you dedicate yourself to getting to the essence of something, it's not going to happen overnight.
"Over time, as we start to know what story we're trying to tell, the intuition of the team takes over the creative process."
In typical fashion, the company's gone for a bare stage and essential props, in this case lots of books, since the two central characters are voracious readers. Shifting characters with top speed, the small cast creates dozens of well-observed figures.
"What we discovered early on was the freedom that adapting Chekhov gave us," adds Gilmour. "Because much of the existing text is prose description, we explore all sorts of possibilities that aren't available when you tackle a script. We get to work and play at a deeper level than usual."
Add the fact that Chekhov's powerful gift for dialogue is embedded in the prose. Gilmour argues that the Russian writer's fiction was preparation, in style and theme, for the great plays later in his life.
"And because Chekhov was as obsessed with essentializing his writing as we are with our staging, we've found a perfect fit, a great marriage."