An Evening With Anton Chekhov strung together his infrequently performed works

Toto Funds the Arts and Rafiki presented An Evening With Anton Chekhov at Ranga Shankara last week. Three of Chekhov’s infrequently performed short plays and one of his short stories, adapted by Anmol Vellani, the director, was performed by some of the best actors in the Bangalore theatre circuit.

The plays, though replete with classy humour, provided an insight into the frailties and foibles of human nature.

In all the plays, gutless male characters occupied centre stage. They rant about their sorry circumstances and their inability to forge their own destiny, for which they hold responsible the domineering and manipulative women in their lives. But there is more to their stories than meets the eye. The audience understood that the characters did not reveal the full truth about themselves and suffer from an inflated ego and a twisted sense of self.

An Evening With Anton Chekhov opened with The Harmfulness of Tobacco, which was performed by Ashish D’Abreo in the first show and Prasanth Nair in the second.

A science lecturer and a hen-pecked husband, who, by his own admission isn’t highly qualified or capable, while delivering a lecture on the ill-effects of tobacco on health, suddenly launches into a slew of complaints against his wife. The lecturer Nyukhin laments over his 33-year marriage and the birth of his seven daughters. The individual acting styles of Ashish and Prasanth — Ashish was more spontaneous, Prasanth was restrained — brought out the different shades of the character well.

A Man With A Violent Temper, performed by Nakul Bhalla and Sharanya Ramprakash, tells the story of Nikolay Andreitch, who prides himself on his intellectual prowess, but finds little time to dwell in the world of letters and science because of his clingy lover, Enka.

Whenever he starts work on his dissertation on the past and future of the dog license, he is interrupted by Enka, who is a romantic, and uproariously silly. Even though Nikolay “seethes with anger” he isn’t man enough to tell Enka that “her wish is not his command” and that “he doesn’t love her”, leaving Nikolay in an even sorrier state of affairs.

At this point, a visibly harassed Ivan Ivanovitch Tolkachov, saddled with shopping bags, interrupts the play. This Reluctant Tragic Hero (Sachin Gurjale) speaks about his domineering wife and middle-class existence, both of which have left him miserable. The distraught Ivan blames everyone in his life, including mosquitoes who don’t allow him to sleep at night, for his unhappiness. But instead of feeling pity for him, the audience laughed at his pathetic circumstances.

The last piece, Swan Song, though not as humorous as the other vignettes, was full of pathos and yearning. Vasili Svietlovidoff (played by Anish Victor), a 68-year-old comedian, finds himself locked-in in a theatre, with the prompter Nikita Ivanitch for company. Svietlovidoff fondly recounts the days of his youth when he was an actor at his prime, but he really is a lonely man who gave up on love when he was asked to give up the stage by the woman whom “he begged for happiness”.

Each of the plays was well performed. The transition from one play to the next was neat. The lights by Mohammad Mustafa heightened the mood of Swan Song. Although some of the plays did not require sets, the use of more props would have added to the production. The performances by Nakul Bhalla and Sharanya Ramprakash is worth a mention for their excellent co-ordination and comic timing. Sachin Gurjale’s sincerity as an actor shone through in his performance, while Anish Victor, known for his powerful dialogue delivery, played his part with sensitivity.