REVIEW – The Many Faces of Farce – Stanford Repertory Theater

It should be noted that Chekhov and I have an on again, off again relationship. Well, it’s more of a Chekhon, Chekhov again. And, really it’s mostly Chekhov. I’ve tried. I’ve seen multiple productions of multiple plays over the last 20 years with various degrees of talent and budget, from classical to modern interpretation and I always feel like I’m missing something. It’s bleak and repetitive and depressing and repetitive and I feel like I should appreciate it more, yet I can’t seem to leave satisfied. But just like eggplant and dating, I keep trying it in case it’s just not been prepared or matched to my personal liking and that one day I’ll leave the theater having had a revelation. Stanford Repertory’s production featuring 3 shorter Chekhov pieces and what was billed as a “cutting edge piece” based on Meyerhold’s 1935 production of the same Chekhov pieces, gave me hope to keep trying, but still had me briskly leaving the scene.

Stanford knows its tech and in that regard all aspects were there despite a very ambitious ¾ stage layout only a couple rows deep on the sides of a general seating house. Their staging accommodated for varying views a lot better than I anticipated, but still there were definitely some long and drawn out moments where unseen facial expression from my perspective (I was sitting behind most of the actors) were getting big laughs and leaving me frustrated. Costuming for the first half was (not unlike eggplant) pretty to look at and certainly suggestive of a non-modern era.

The Bear started off strong. Solidly matched acting from the small cast of 3, they played the humor of the scene which in this play was undeniable. Farce not satire, and while it took me a few minutes to warm up to the melodrama, ultimately it won me over. My hopes raised we had achieved, albeit brief, a Chekhon!

The Proposal started with promise, but before it was half over it did nothing but confirm my suspicion that the playwright and I should not order dessert and just split the bill. Whether the blame lay with the pacing of the acting or that of the play/jokes which dragged, I couldn’t exactly say, but not unlike a SNL sketch used mostly as filler at the end of the show, it seemed to go on and on and ultimately overstay its welcome. I didn’t feel the stakes demonstrated at the level needed to see the humor in it. I admired our female lead’s facial plasticity, and the dry sternness of her father, but it wasn’t enough to, pardon the pun, keep me engaged. Chekhov.

The Anniversary…well… chock it up to lost in translation or just what is now considered cliché, but I was longing for intermission by this point. There were a few bright moments from the women of the cast, but the whole premise of the piece was just not up to snuff of the first piece or the potential of the second. This is what I would typically consider as a full blown CHEKHOV. Way off.

Now. We get to a very experimental, organic, modern, meta piece written and performed by the entire cast in modern clothes and no 4th wall. I’ll say straight away, I can totally respect the creative collaboration required to assemble such an experience. It’s intent I recognize. The combination of history and mimicking Meyerhold’s structure while adding in a brave, almost Brechtian element to the production, I fully understand. But, the end result…felt like a theater game, a tad pretentious, and missed the mark for me. This is a piece where I imagine the process of creating it held far more value than the end product. This was art for artists more than audience, and that’s totally okay. It’s just not, for me, very suspenseful or entertaining. I appreciate that it was built very authentically, and I know what it wanted to say, I don’t believe they actually said it though. The take away for me here was a good history lesson, albeit a bit unexpected and abstract. The cast and Stanford Rep are better than any part of this production. 2 ½ Jewels in the review tiara for a play that had potential, but not enough pizazz to Chekhov a win. The Many Faces of Farce played through August 27th at the Nitery Theater on the Stanford Campus.

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