A Triple Dip of Chekhov: Three One-Act Farces
Chekhov’s gun is a finicky weapon; if you hang a rifle on the wall in Act One, it has to be fired in the following act. But what if there is no Act Two? If you’ve only got one act to tell your story, then that gun has to go off pretty darn quick. Chekhov rises to his own challenge in A Triple Dip of Chekhov: Three One-Act Farces, directed by Sue Klemp, at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Redfield Studio Theatre.
This trio of one-act farces includes The Anniversary, The Proposal and The Bear. In The Anniversary, a misogynistic clerk helps his pompous, garrulous boss, who’s the president of the bank, prepare for the celebration of the president’s 15th anniversary. The lavish, carefully organized ceremonies in his honor (largely funded by the president himself) quickly fall apart when a pair of women—the president’s wife and a poverty-stricken peasant seeking aid for her disabled husband—barge in. The battle of the sexes is on, and it’s the bank’s shareholders who stand to lose.
In The Proposal, a young, sickly country squire pays a visit to his elderly neighbor, intending to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But his flowery proposal soon deteriorates into a shouting match with his prospective bride over land rights and who owns the superior hunting dog. Is it a deal-breaking difference of opinion, or just good practice for domestic bliss?
In The Bear, a harried creditor with a bad temper calls on a pretty young widow to collect her late husband’s debt. Though the young widow makes a show of her grief, it’s little more than an attempt to make herself look good while getting posthumous revenge on her philandering jerk of a spouse. Uninterested in the creditor’s financial problems, she provokes him into a drawing-room duel, but her fiery spirit inspires a most unexpected reaction from the admiring creditor.
Triple Dip is staged at the blackbox Redfield Studio Theatre, but theater-in-the-round may not have been the best choice for these one-acts. The funniest moments of a farce depend on physical comedy and exaggerated facial expressions, but audience members seated on the sides often can’t see what’s making the audience members seated in front of the stage laugh. During the intermission, several theatergoers were overheard discussing similar complaints and wondering what they’d missed. Better blocking would allow the entire audience to enjoy all the humor as it’s intended to be experienced.
Nevertheless, the production offers plenty of lively and amusing performances. Ben Onyx Dowdy is entertaining as the self-important bank president in The Anniversary. Kris Wallek energizes The Proposal as the spoiled, argumentative bride-to-be, opposite Eric Jon Cadwell, who gets laughs as a vaporish, whiny suitor. And Jen Crenshaw, playing the spitfire widow in The Bear, makes us see why even an angry creditor can’t resist her.
Chekhov’s characters are a mismatched, oddball lot; the men all hate women and endlessly invent imaginary medical ailments, and the women are vapid chatterboxes or scheming shrews—or both. None of his men and women are particularly admirable, but they’re often ridiculous, and their antics are good for laughs. Much has changed since the 19th century, but human nature has not, and Chekhov’s cynical view of man’s foibles and foolish self-importance remains sharp and relevant. Ask not for whom Chekhov’s gun fires; it fires for thee.