Two by Friel (After Chekhov)
Adapted from Anton Chekhov by Brian Friel. Dir. Kay Martinovich. With ensemble cast. Irish Repertory at Victory Gardens.
The three most important things for staging Chekhov? Subtext, subtext, subtext. But look high and low: You'll find none of it here. In the first one-act, The Yalta Game, adapted from a Chekhov short story, a middle-aged married man meets a half-his-age married woman and starts up one of his many casual affairs; to his surprise, he finds himself entangled in a love beyond reason. With little dialogue to work with, Friel faces the adapter's dilemma of expressing internal lives dramatically. He cops out of that problem by having the adulterers spill their guts to us in monologues, diluting the interaction between them. The result is not only anti-Chekhovian (the slippery sense that nothing we say can ever match what we feel); it's also not dramatic.
That gaping hole could've been patched over a bit if there were any chemistry between James Barry and Eva Bloomfield. The same absence of groin-burning attraction rears its flaccid head again in the second one-act, Chekhov's farcical The Bear, this time between Barry and Meghan McDonough. As the bearish, boorish Smirnov, coming to collect on the debts of a young widow's late husband, Barry gets to loosen his cravat and have fun. Yet Friel and Martinovich once more disregard how, even in this slight diversion, Chekhov gets at the disconnect between our internal and external realities. Subtext to Chekhov is what location is to a store; without it, you can try selling, but no one will come buying.—Novid Parsi