'Winnipeg was my Moscow...What a sh-t deal' - Rod Beilfuss
Much has been said in the last couple of weeks about why Chekhov’s works are particularly suited to Winnipeg - what with his grim, but often grimly funny, stories and plays, and his characters’ preoccupation with past greatness and escape from an unappealing present.
So it’s impressive that writer/performer Rod Beilfuss finds something new to add to that conversation, with a production that’s honest, funny, and Chekhovian - with a definite Winnipeg twist.
Beilfuss begins About Love & Champagne (Fancy Bred Theatre) with a personal and personable monologue explaining his own connection to the city and to Chekhov, and how, like many Chekhov characters, he sought escape - and landed here. “Winnipeg was my Moscow,” he deadpans. “What a sh-t deal.”
From there, Beilfuss moves into his localized adaptations of two Chekhov short stories - “Champagne” and “About Love,” both of which explore the tragedy of unattainable romance. The line between Chekhov’s characters and the actor, and between truth and fiction, begins to blur - underlining Beilfuss’ thesis that Chekhov is a universal writer, but also one who speaks profoundly to an audience in our particular time and place. His performance is natural and compelling throughout.
It could use a bit of fine-tuning - the show’s opening is definitely its most engaging element, and mixing more of the personal in with Chekhov’s stories might make for an even more intriguing piece. But it is, on balance, a funny, insightful take on Chekhov - and why he really might be a particularly Manitoban master playwright.
Most of us probably remember Chekhov with less cannibalism, cross-dressing, and crassness than we find in Three Sisters: A Black Opera in Three Acts.
But former Winnipegger Kristine Nutting gives his classic Three Sisters a rude, crude, pitch black prairie gothic makeover in this adaptation (previously seen here at the 2005 Winnipeg Fringe Festival). It’s a great idea, but unfortunately gets a middling production here.
The tale of three sisters who want to escape to Edmonton from their twisted Saskatchewan farm is all very raunchy and edgy and profane (those who are not easily offended will still be offended - they just won’t be as appalled as everyone else). Done right, it could be very funny – and there are some things that work (starting with the inspired idea of staging the play in the “non-traditional” venue of Club St. B.).
But a range of problems conspire to sink the production. The play’s musical numbers are sapped of their energy by bare-bones (and occasionally ragged) accompaniment, and the sometimes shaky vocal talents of the cast. As a whole, Andraea Sartison’s production doesn’t have the swift pacing needed to sustain the 90-minute show, nor does it really strike the right - and very tricky - balance between horror and humour in Nutting’s script.
In the end, while they hit some of the right notes, the cast’s performances just aren’t quite sharp enough to sell the over-the-top insanity of this show.
It’s an ambitious shot at a completely gonzo play. But it sadly falls as flat as a Saskatchewan landscape.
See About Love & Champagne at Aceartinc until February 8. Three Sisters: A Black Opera in Three Acts shows at the St. Boniface Hotel until February 3.