“Chekhov-The Vaudevilles”, staged this past week, provided some insight into the great Russian writer's humour.

Anton Chekhov's masterpieces like “The Seagull”, “The Three Sisters” and the “Cherry Orchard” are frequently seen on the Delhi stage. Besides, his early stories written in a lighter vein also continue to delight audiences from time to time. In fact, he wrote these stories, which were published in newspapers, to earn money to meet the expenses of his medical studies. Though he was dismissive of these pieces, they bear the stamp of his genius to blend the comic and the serious. A keen observer of life, he mocks at himself as well as the absurdities of the lives of the people. American playwright Neil Simon adapted some of these stories as vaudeville to offer Broadways audiences moments of hearty laughter tinged with tenderness.

Last week Thespian presented five of Chekov's stories under the title “Chekhov —The Vaudevilles” at Shri Ram Centre under the direction of Raj Upadhyay, an alumnus of Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts, Lucknow. Some of these pieces offered heart-warming moments. One was farcical, missing the element of mordant wit, and one story failed to lift the tone and quicken the pace — essential elements of vaudeville. However, one piece stood out for its impressive artistry. Through the character of Anton Chekhov, who provides a link between these different stories, the director tries to infuse into his productions Chekhovian humour, sad and gentle, that touches the heart of the audience.

Dubious gift

The evening opened with “A Work of Art”, which deals with an antique bronze piece with two female figures, gifted by a boy to a doctor as a token of gratitude for saving his life. The doctor feels embarrassed to see the raunchy female figures. To get rid of this gift, which the boy claims to be the work of art, he passes it to his friend; in turn the doctor's friend gifts this ‘work of art' to a great comedian as a token of his appreciation of his comic talent, resulting in the heartbreak of the comedian whose mistress could not bear the sight of the actor kissing the female figures. The stage presentation is disjointed and its pace is slow. The gift, which is the source of discomfort to its receivers, is too small to register the idea that it is really raunchy and embarrassing to be displayed by a gentleman in public.

This was followed by “Arrangement”, which deals with a boy's firmness to preserve his innocence — a funny situation which the director treats with economy and sensitivity.

Chekhov exposed the vulgarity and ostentatious lifestyles of the rich and their disdain and callous indifference towards the suffering of the poor. In one of the stories he depicts the plight of a governess cheated and exploited by her employers. What is most painful is that she accepts all these indignities with utter meekness. Chekhov asserts that the exploited must resist their exploiters and fight to preserve their dignity. The theatrical piece is tediously slow and the performers could not inject life into their portrayals.

The piece “Surgery” about the encounter between a quack masquerading as a dental surgeon and an old patient suffering from acute toothache is hilarious.

The concluding piece “Seduction” impressed the audience. It is taut and the acting is brilliant. It is a comic exposure of Peter who is cunning enough to seduce a woman by making her husband the conduit. It ends on a laconic note.

Shardul Bhardwaj as Anton Chekhov, the Sutradhar and the keen observant of life around, Shankul Prakash as a shy boy, Sumit Gulati as the unsuspecting husband, Pranav Sachdev as the seducer and Prajvi Bagga as the wife gave impressive performances.