What a wonderful little gem the Quotidian Theatre Company of Bethesda is. With performances tucked away at the Writer’s Center on Walsh Street, the decidedly unremarkable building houses a delightful theater troupe. The company ends its 2011-2012 season with homage to Anton Chekhov. Two productions are presented in the evening. The first is an adaptation of Chekhov’s short story, A Little Trick. Afterplay, by Brian Friel, presents a 20 year epilogue to Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and the play, The Three Sisters.
The vignette of A Little Trick was an all-around joy to watch. The translation and adaptation by Jack Sbarbori is easy to appreciate by modern audiences. Like many of Chekhov’s works the theme is unrequited and unobtainable love. The production is very much like the pivotal toboggan rides depicted, both spellbinding and tense but punctuated with highly physical and epinephrine-driven bursts of energy and emotion. Jonathan Feuer as Ivan captivates your attention right off, and lends a mesmerizing performance. Sara Dabney Tisdale’s Nadya is incandescent and captivating. Concert violinist Christine Kharazian, as the wind, personifies the Russian winter and the characters’ emotional plight.
The stark and dramatic staging design by John Decker and lighting design by Don Slater and the authentic costuming by Stephanie Mumford lend a credibility to this 19th century winter’s tale. Director Stephanie Mumford has led her team to generate not only “a little trick” but a mesmerizing, little slice of life.
Afterplay (bad pun warning) is “a little trickier” to appreciate. This story involves the character Sonya, from the play Uncle Vanya, haphazardly meeting up with Andrey, the brother of The Three Sisters. The setting is an evening in a Moscow cafe. It has been twenty years since each protagonist’s life drama has unfolded. Sonya (Michele Osherow) is in Moscow to attend to business regarding her father’s estate. Andrey (David Dubov) appears to have regained the upper hand since his failures in business and marriage.
As in A Little Trick, the actors are very strong and captivating in Afterplay. The focus of the play is on the dialogue and discussion reactions, and both Osherow and Dubov provide engaging and outstanding performances for Director Jack Sbarbori. However, to fully appreciate this production, it is definitely helpful to be familiar with the referenced plays, as they provide the backbone of the interactions between Sonya and Andrey.
The seemingly content, happy, and well-adjusted Sonya and Andrey convey their lost dreams and past misfortunes to each other….at times a bit tediously recanting the summary of the plots and themes from Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters.
A simple and somewhat modernistic stage setting (think West Elm/New York urban chic) and the subdued but accurate costuming only lend authenticity and attention to the discussions between Sonya and Andrey. I didn’t find this production as satisfying as the smaller vignette. At times the discussions between the protagonists bogged down and a “false” denouement of the ending of the cafe evening was a bit of a tedious and unnecessary action. As the play resumed it was difficult to remain invested in the characters or dialogue…for me, the play had already ended. Overall, I found the production engaging, but perhaps requiring an editing revisit.
A Little Trick is approximately 20 minutes. Afterplay is approximately 60 minutes.
Afterplay and A Little Trick plays through August 19, 2012 at the Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 816-1023.
Read Steve LaRoque’s preview article on Afterplay and A Little Trick.