The Many Faces of Farce is hysterical and historical at Stanford Rep.

The Many Faces of Farce. Stanford Repertory Theater’s 2017 Summer Festival. Nitery Theater, 514 Lasuen Mall, Old Union, Stanford University, CA. or phone (650) 725-5838.  August 10 – 27, 2017

The Many Faces of Farce is hysterical and historical at Stanford Rep. Rating: ★★★★☆

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” Karl Marx. 

The program suggests and it probably represents a truism that many did not know that Chekhov wrote farces. On opening night Thursday the audience at Stanford Repertory Theater was treated to three of them. They are all short plays with the first being The Bear, followed by The Proposal and the third and most elaborate was The Anniversary. The casts were a mixture of students and professional local talent who seemed to be having as much or more fun than the attendees who filled the black box aptly called the Nitery Theater where the three sided seating brought the casts into close contact with the audience.

The arrangement fit well into the directorial concepts of Vsevolold Meyerhold’s 33 Swoons that was staged as tribute to Chekhov’s 75th birthday. The title is a reference to the number of times Chekhov used that flamboyant direction in those three aforementioned plays. Knowing this fact caused this reviewer to try to keep count of the swoons but this soon ended when it became obvious that if Meyerhold’s observation were correct they were well fitted to the story lines of the one act plays.

Director Alex Johnson allows his characters in all three plays to act flamboyantly recognizing that such performances are an integral part of farce. What is missing, because of the Nitery configuration, are the obligatory minimum four doors that are part of modern farce. Never-the-less the multiple entrance and exits make up for the lack of doors.

The Bear: Matthew Libby & Lilian Bornstein

The opening play The Bear has three characters. A maid Lyuba (Heather Connelly), Popova (Lillian Bornstein), a widow of 6 months  still dressed black, still mourning and remaining housebound and very forgiving of her dead husband even though he was a cheating lothario.  Enter “the Bear” Smirnov (Matthew Libby) who is there to collect a debt owed by the deceased husband.  Sparks fly when Lyuba demands more time to pay (or not to pay). Chekhov uses the device of allowing the actor to verbalize what he/she is thinking and it is obvious that Smirnov has a low opinion of and has been hurt by women. But in these musings he recognizes the beauty of Lyuba even though they are in a verbal battle that becomes relatively physical yet hilarious leading to a swift ending.

There is a lot of swooning in The Proposal  and it has the best construction of the three farces. Picture and aging farmer/land owner Chubukov (Thomas Freeland) with a plain looking unmarried daughter Natalya (Lea Zawada) and a shy 35 year old relatively affluent neighbor Lomov (Adi Chang) has come to propose first asking Chubukov’s permission that is granted. Enter Natalya unaware of Lomov’s purpose. Misunderstandings mingle with discord and Lomov’s written speech for his proposal is dropped, picked up by Lomov and her personality changes leading to attempts at making herself available to accept the proposal. The interaction between the three always leaves the outcome in doubt as the weaknesses and strengths of each character create physical and verbal farce.

The final one act farce The Anniversary would benefit from having four doors since the multiple entrances and exits are non-stop. Although in the program there are only four named characters there are unspoken entrances and exits that make up for the doors.  This farce has the most social/political satire of the three plays. The action takes place in a corrupt bank preparing to honor the 50th anniversary run by the officious Shipuchin (Peter Townley) whose talkative wife Tatiana (Bella Wilcox)  is away visiting her mother but who returns early. Then there is the bitter clerk Khirin (Vineet Gupta) who cannot finish his fraudulent reports because of all the interruptions. Into this scene enters Merchutkina (Malaika Murphy-Sierra)the unhappy wife of a fired employee with personal demands requiring getting a sum of money. Before the play ends there is complete mayhem expected of farce.

After the intermission the cast and crew have assembled a screen on the third wall to be used for projections that are part of their homage to Meyehold in particular and to theater in general. It is an ensemble performance with Lillian Bornstein, Adi Chang, Vineet Gupta, Matthew Libby, Malaika Murphy-Sierra, Raquel Orendain Shrestha, Elisa Vidales, Bella Wilcox  Lea Zawada. One of the more intriguing directorial conceits is the use of Jenga blocks that are small oblong smoothly crafted wood that is use to create an intricate tower that is eventually disassemble with each member of the cast taking a share to each sitting before the front row of the audience defining how they would create a theater suggestive of Meyerhold’s concept. This is the historical portion that is an appropriate ending for the evening. Running time about 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

CAST: The Bear: Popova, Lillian Bornstein; Lyuba, Heather Connelly; Smirnov,   Matthew Libby.  The Proposal: Chubukov, Thomas Freeland; Lomov, Adi Chang; Natalya  , Lea Zawada.

The Anniversary: Khirin, Vineet Gupta; Shipuchin,   Peter Townley; Tatiana, Bella Wilcox; Merchutkina, Malaika Murphy-Sierra. 33 Swoons Ensemble Lillian Bornstein, Adi Chang, Vineet Gupta, Matthew Libby, Malaika Murphy-Sierra, Raquel Orendain Shrestha, Elisa Vidales, Bella Wilcox  Lea Zawada

ARTISTIC STAFF: Director: Alex Johnson; Stage Managers: Alaina Brown (Chekhov) and Heather Connelly (33 Swoons); Costume Designer: Alma Bokovikova; Assistant Costume Designers: Martianna Arnold and Connie Su; Lighting Designer: John Bernard; Sound Designer: Dan Holland; Technical Director: Connor Asercion.


Kedar Adour. MD

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