Monday Magazine contributor
Before Thursday night, I didn’t think Chekhov and farce belonged in the same sentence. That was because I had seen The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters multiple times, but had never been exposed to the writer’s shorter works.
Thanks to the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre I have totally changed my mind about Chekhov’s ability to write humour.
The opening play of its 10th season is a tour de force which totally blew me away. It is actually four short pieces, which follow on each other’s heels, to make 90 minutes of unparalleled brilliance.
On the Dangers of Tobacco presents a nervous man delivering a lecture, which becomes a very funny rant about his wife and her music school. RJ Peters is hugely amusing as this poor, browbeaten husband, descending into a roaring tantrum.
Peters is equally hilarious as a neighbour turned suitor in The Bear, a melodrama about a bereaved wife and a man attempting to reclaim a loan he made to her husband. Treena Stubel, as the widow determined to be in grief forever, handles the role with equal amounts of martyrdom and passion. She also performs a wonderfully droll entre-act with Celine Stubel, dancing with lit cigarettes.
Stubel also has a very meaty part in The Proposal, which is basically a shouting match with Rod Peter Jr., where they argue about everything except the matter at hand. When he collapses with the stress of the fight, her attempts to revive him are side-splittingly funny. Peter, with his spastic movements, is exhausting to watch, but his performance is among the cleverest in all four skits.
Swan Song, the final mini-show, which is actually more dramatic than funny, features Wes Twitter playing the character of an old actor, past his prime but still doing what he does best. It is a moving piece by a super-talented master of his trade.
The music is provided by Grayson Walker, Treena Stubel, RJ Peters and a delightful and confidant eight-year-old girl, Noa Paster, who does not look a day older than five and demonstrates amazing skill with three instruments.
Kudos to Jacob Richmond, director, for his superb handling of these diverse shows, which are almost over the top, but are marvellously restrained. Blue Bridge has struggled on, always on a shoestring budget, and is somehow thriving. The move to The Roxy, an unattractive wartime cinema with little to recommend it as a theatre venue, appears to have given the company some stability. And these actors are definitely worth watching.
Swan Song and Other Farces runs at the Roxy (Quadra at Hillside) until May 6. Call 250-382-3370 for tickets – while you are at it, purchase a subscription for the entire season. You will not be disappointed.