‘The Bear’ and ‘Afterplay’ shine in their simplicity
Adam Ramos | Monday, February 22, 2016
“I will show him what true love really is,” the recent widow Elena Ivanovna Popova frustratingly declares as she stares at a picture of her recently deceased, unfaithful husband. Farce, from the light-hearted to the heavy, is the main vehicle in investigating human relationships in Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre’s production of “The Bear” and “Afterplay.”
Directed by FTT department member Carys Kresny, “The Bear” is a performance of Irish playwright Brian Friel’s translation of Anton Chekhov’s original writing. Friel later wrote “Afterplay” in the style of Chekhov. The two consecutive one-act comedies are presented as part of Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies celebration of Irish history and culture. “The Bear” and “Afterplay” are playing at the Philbin Studio Theatre in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and highlight the best of student actors.
The first act, “The Bear,” opens to a woman in black awkwardly swaying to a low-light clarinet serenade in a posh, bohemian living room, immediately establishing the act’s farce backbone. Set in the 1890s pre-revolution Russian countryside, “The Bear” traces the budding relationship between widow Elena Ivanovna Popova and oddball landowner Gregory Stepanovitch Smirnov. The story begins when Smirnov attempts to collect the debt of Popova’s late husband, but is immediately met with stern opposition. Yet, what begins as disgust melts into a ridiculous embrace as the foolish characters fall helplessly in love, despite the warnings of the hilarious Luka, Popova’s trusty footman.
While “The Bear” mainly follows the duo of Popova and Smirnov, it is the unlikely Luka who delivers with the laughs. By presenting quality acting, spot-on timing and the correct amount slapstick, sophomore Ben Vasquez seized the attention whenever on stage, whether by design, or despite it. Unfortunately though, while the leading senior Imani Parker-Robinson and freshman Tyrel London may have mastered their respective roles, the noticeable lack of chemistry distracted from the humor of much of the act, and especially so at the finale. Yet, between the brevity of the 40-minute act and Luka’s understated comedic reprieve, “The Bear” satisfied.
While “The Bear” may have left a bit to be desired, primarily in the acting category, all was redeemed with the play’s second act, “Afterplay.” A simple café setting stood at the center of the elevated stage as an imposing Gorgon, played by sophomore Kelly Carr, arranged a meek meal for two. The act begins when two unassuming middle-aged people reunite after a drunken night of casual conversation. Senior Lesley Stevenson shines as frustratingly timid Sonya, and London played the perfect foil with his lovably down-on-his-luck character Andrey (Editor’s Note: Stevenson is a copy editor for The Observer). As the act progress, the lies the two told one another the night before begin to unravel. Quickly, the reality of lost loves and missed success comes to light, creating a poignant air of vulnerable genuineness, which played nicely with the farcical undertones.
Both acts thrive in the intimate setting of the Philbin Studio Theatre. Simple furniture and ornaments allowed the vulnerability to become the focal point of the performance, evoking a very human experience. Both “The Bear” and “Afterplay” rely heavily on the interactions between the two leading roles, and the close quarters of the theatre helped facilitate these relationships. Lighting also played a crucial role in sustaining this vulnerability. Spotlights were used effectively in focusing on the back-and-forth antics between main characters, and varying degrees of intensity helped create crucial tension in the pivotal scenes of each act.
“The Bear” and “Afterplay” work in their simplicity and are worth the price of the ticket. The productions will run in the DeBartolo Preforming Art Center through Feb. 28.