Evenings of one act plays can be a great way to link themes and ideas into a larger understanding for an audience. Finding ways in which shorter plays can interpret similar ideas, but ultimately maintain their own independence is one of the fascinating ways that playwrights explore concepts they don’t think can stretch out over a two-hour play. However, evenings of one act plays are not without their pitfalls: quality of the plays can vary drastically, both from a textual standpoint as well as production wise, which could lead to an audience viewing an unbalanced night of theater. Although lofty in its thematic ambitions, the dual presentation of Irish Heritage Theatre’s THE BEAR & AFTERPLAY does somewhat stumble into such pitfalls.
The show is two one act plays from playwright Brian Friel, as he takes on some of Anton Chekov’s work. THE BEAR is an adaptation of Chekov’s play of the same title; it tells the story of a grieving widow and a man who intrudes on her life to settle a debt from her deceased husband. AFTERPLAY is an imagined meeting of two of Chekov’s famous characters (Sonya from UNCLE VANYA & Andrey from THREE SISTERS) twenty years after their respective plays end.
THE BEAR is the weaker of the two shows, from a script standpoint. Its story, while simple, doesn’t always take logical steps in storytelling. Characters make odd decisions, with motivations that drive the characters feeling lightly explored at best, and nonsensical at worst. Some of this may come from the original play, but in a short adaptation it can be overwhelming to audiences unfamiliar with Chekov. This one act then becomes a tough piece to present, but the actors and director battle fiercely to make sense of the messy script. Confusingly, there didn’t seem to be much cohesion between the three actors in terms of style of performance, which only compounded upon the haphazard feel of the script. Director Peggy Meechum does her best to keep the action of the piece moving, helping the actors to mine some of the humor from the script, but ultimately it doesn’t help hide the deeper issues with the piece.
AFTERPLAY is an instantly more charming piece, introducing us to two characters who are lost and desperately looking for connection. These two characters happen to be from other Chekov works, which helps performers Kirsten Quinn (Sonya) and Rob Hargraves (Andrey) develop layered backstories and histories for them. Both characters are longing for the things in life they cannot seem to find or hold onto, but they find solace in each other and for a brief, fleeting moment are able to be for each other the things that are missing or wanted. Quinn and Hargraves have fantastic chemistry and are able to support each other through the complex emotions their characters experience. It was an engaging experience that made me want to watch a whole two act play about these characters interacting.
Both pieces explore ideas of life, loss and what it means to keep going. THE BEAR comes at it from a spiteful place: the widow will basically put her life on hold to spite her deceased husband, who was never faithful to her. The man who intrudes on her is struggling with the loss of his home and business that he has built up. Through a wild series of events they connect and decide to continue on. AFTERPLAY is more melancholic about the concept. Sonya is still holding onto her past, so much so that it blocks her from possessing her fullest future. Andrey is more hopeful, and is trying to rectify his life of inaction, but doesn’t fully grasp what an undertaking that can be. The characters don’t realize that they have what the other needs to succeed. Although thematically similar, the difference in how these shows approach loss and life is enthralling; it is a shame then that the texts and presentation felt similarly uneven.
[Irish Heritage Theatre, 1714 Delancy Street] March 2-19 2023; irishheritagetheatre.org