I had to admit some trepidation mounting the steps to the second level of the mini-mall which houses the Tres Stage Theatre in Hollywood. Not to maintain my balance, as the staircase is well-appointed with banisters and the like. But doing Chekhov is a risky thing in a modern age, especially when performed by actors, who for the most part are not classically trained.
So it was a total delight to watch the troupe presenting Love and Dysfunction, featuring Anton Chekhov's The Bear and The Proposal and to see how quickly one became accustomed to the mannered dialogue from a translation of the original text, making it quite easy to enjoy the wacky conflicts that unfolded.
First, The Proposal in which a thirtyish suitor, Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov, easily gains the permission of Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov for the hand of his daughter Natalya Stepanovna. The somewhat complicated names, repeated throughout for emphasis, create an atmosphere that helps to transform our mindset into another era and draw us into an almost Marx Bros. zaniness, a current reference point though the plays preceded the film legends by fifty years.
Chubukov, played matter of fact and honestly by Russ Andrade, is all too eager to pass his daughter's welfare to the earnest Lomov. This pleases the younger man, portrayed winningly by Justin Baltz, who employs an odd combination of steadfast neurotic nutcase. When Natalya makes her entrance, she greets Ivan Lumov as an old friend, having been told nothing by her father of the wedding intentions, and in the course of what should have been a simple proposal, the conversation turns and turns into a ludicrous sidetrack that unravels the happy moment.
The banter between them is very funny and the action quite real and spirited, especially by the pretty and pert Jennifer Vincent, who more than holds her own with Baltz. Meanwhile, he watches his dreams go up in smoke as he stubbornly clings to his side of the argument, while comically displaying major episodes of hypochondria.
In The Bear, John Baltz plays bill collector Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov, who has a difficult time getting a young widow, Elena Ivanouvna Popova, to pay what her late husband owes him. From the outset it is maddening that Grigory won't accept Elena's declaration that he will get his money in two days. He wants it now and won't accept a delay. Amidst this lunacy is the intercession of longtime servant Luka, convincingly played by Amazon Beard. She is loyal to the extreme but wants her lady, attractive and sexy Katherine King, to get back in action and out of the black widow weeds she has worn for seven months.
The performances here are also excellent, with John Baltz providing a stoic righteousness mixed with a growing attraction to the seemingly unaware and disinterested Katherine King. Indeed, she willfully matches his forcefulness with a strength for which women of that time were not noted. The beleaguered Amazon Beard caters to them both and has a particularly hilarious health crisis which goes unnoticed during one of Baltz and King's major altercations.
Classical theatre may not be your thing, but this is an evening, produced by Justin and John Baltz and cleverly directed by Stephen Juhl, that most would find accessible and to their liking. And as an added bonus it's cheap, with tickets just ten dollars at the Tres Stage Theatre, 1523 N. La Brea Avenue (just above Sunset) in Hollywood. For reservations (323) 850-7827. But you don't have long, as it plays only on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., running through June 28.
Michael Russnow's website is ramproductionsinternational.com
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