To clip characters helpless from the bounds of their classic works and conjure up the residue of their stories requires bravery in vision, deftness in execution, and a wholehearted love for the source material. All of these prerequisites are unequivocally met in Quotidian Theatre Company’s delightful production of Brian Friel’s Afterplay. As a matter of fact, Quotidian and its erstwhile maestro Jack Sbarbori, are no strangers to appreciating the works of Anton Chekhov, and have made it something of their raison d’être to present the works of the Russian master to Washington, D.C. area theatergoers.
Afterplay depicts a bittersweet duet of unrequited lives; a chance meeting of two characters from two different Chekhov plays at a Moscow café in the early 1920s. Present at this communion are Andrey Prozorov, the irresolute brother to Chekhov’s Three Sisters—the last we saw of him he was a cuckolded failure raising children his wife abandoned and forced to mortgage the family estate to pay gambling debts—and Uncle Vanya’s tragically overlooked niece, Sonya Serebryakova, twenty years on in lonely spinsterhood.
Knowledge of the original plays adds critical resonance to the encounter, for the emotional trauma of those events still weigh heavily here. Both characters are survivors, in middle age and well accustomed to the abuses one suffers in getting there.
Andrey and Sonya chat, polite and restrained at first, and then with more candor, after numerous sips of vodka and the ease that comes with familiarity. “Little fictions” are deflated, to the relief of their bearers. They make plans to meet again and then … well it is based on Chekhov after all.
Having the conceit to improve upon Chekhov is bold, but doing it well is a saving grace.
I am not surprised in the least that Quotidian has succeeded in imbuing a thought-provoking piece of Chekhovian arcana with poignancy and tenderness. Sbarbori’s direction and the acting—David Dubov as Andrey and Michele Osherow as Sonya—is impeccable, bright and clean, performed with much elegance and sensitivity to the ebb and flow of the art of conversation, with things said and unsaid. Words, gestures and silences are finely handled, down to the nuance. The image-stories the actors evoke are marbled with gentle humor and not without the painful regret that can characterize a life half-lived.
Dubov displays understated comedic talent in a charming and quirky portrayal of Andrey.
Osherow distinguishes Sonya with spirit and fortitude, and her gradual, understated transformation from assured administrator of her family’s estate to the bared, broken down prisoner to neglected passion is remarkable.
Afterplay is another of Quotidian’s homespun valentines to theater art. It’s a genuine love of craft that leavens the bread Quotidian bakes and it’s evident once again in this offering.
Preceding Afterplay is the short A Little Trick, based on a Chekhov story and directed by Stephanie Mumford. A Little Trick is a narrated memory play told from the point of view of a young man, Ivan, about a singular season spent with Nadya, an impressible young woman who he may have loved in his youth.
Jonathan Feuer gives an assertive portrayal as the diffident Ivan, but it’s Sara Dabney Tisdale’s almost wordless performance as the painfully smitten Nadya that makes the piece special. She must convey Nadya’s subtext in reaction to Feuer’s monologue, and does so ably, through movement and facial expression. I hope to see her around town in a full-on performance soon.
John Decker’s set design for A Little Trick is imaginative and lively, evoking a wintry birch forest and a hilltop with a scarlet sleigh displayed for the audience like a totem idol.
A Little Trick also features the vibrant strings of Quotidian attraction Christine Kharazian’s violin.
Written by Brian Friel
Directed by Jack Sbarbori
A Little Trick
Written by Anton Chekhov
Translated and adapted by Jack Sbarbori
Directed by Stephanie Mumford
Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company
Reviewed by Roy Maurer
Running time: Afterplay is approximately 60 minutes. A Little Trick is approximately 20 minutes