According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

MITF: Love, Flies in the Snuffbox

Reviewed by Jason Fitzgerald

Chekhov dismissed his “vaudevilles,” the short comic plays that comprised the bulk of his dramatic output, as “trivial” and “foolish,” “jokes” without substance. It’s easy to give them the same thrift in production—Chekhov, light and fluffy!—but only at their peril. Although the plays satirize people’s tendency to self-dramatize until they become caricatures of themselves, Chekhov’s style is never simply to belittle. As in the later plays, he underscores his criticisms with empathy, and he colors his comedy with loss and failure. The successful realization of the three Chekhov shorts that make up in Love, Flies in the Snuffbox, all directed and translated by Dustin Condren, depends on the actors’ ability to create, not clowns, but real people who behave like clowns. The Proposal, in which two neighbors can’t stop quarrelling long enough to propose marriage, fares the worst: The characters are reduced to a collection of postures and vocal ticks, and the situation becomes mildly silly rather than uproarious and true. The Bear, in which a widow committed to a life of mourning is seduced by a rustic neighbor, holds up slightly better, thanks to Victoria Levin’s ironic righteousness as the widow and the palpable erotic charge found in the final scene. But the highlight of the evening is Rick Delaney’s textured and pathetic performance in On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, about a middle-aged man who turns a “lecture for charity” into a helpless cry from a mediocre, emasculated existence. Delaney stammers and stumbles his way through the monologue, screwing up his face and tightening his suit jacket as though holding back screams or tears…or both. He never quite collapses—this pitiable character can’t even have a decent breakdown—but makes us feel embarrassed to laugh at the downfall of an unimportant man. Delaney’s performance fulfills the dual potential of the vaudevilles—proving that Chekhov’s earlier achievements can hold their own, while simultaneously opening a window to the quietly desperate figures (Medvedenko, Gaev, Sonya) of the later masterpieces.

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