By Erik Luna
Russian playwright Anton Chekhov may not have thought much of his two farcical one-act plays “The Proposal,” and “The Bear,” going as far as calling them worthless, yet after 126 years they still offer a glimpse into the foolishness that is life.
Director Matthew Floyd Miller’s adaptation “The Chekhov Vaudevilles!… Featuring The Proposal and The Bear!,” for East Los Angeles College’s Theatre Arts Department certainly brought the absurdity to hilarious results last Friday in the P2-101 Upstairs Theatre.
The show starts as Ivan Vasilievich Lomov nervously walks to a door rethinking his decision to knock on it. The well-dressed Ivan clutches on to some flowers as Katarina Stepanovna Chubukova greets him at the door.
Ivan frantically explains his reason for the visit. He wishes to marry her daughter Natalya.
A thrilled Katarina wanders off to find the young Natalya and what happens next can only be described as a rollercoaster ride of emotions. And heart murmurs.
After 30 or so minutes and a quick set change, “The Bear,” begins. An old house servant named Luka makes his way around the drawing room.
The lady of the house Yelena Ivanovna Popova makes her way into the room in distress. Her husband has died. Luka, not wanting to see Popova this way, tries his best to get her to continue her life, but fails.
Shortly after, a loud yell bellows from behind the scenes and a furious Grigory Stepanovich Smirnov stomps his way into the room. He demands money that was owed to him by the departed and does not receive any.
The man drifts away into a fit of fury throughout the play, which produces exciting and surprising results.
Truly, what isn’t there to love about this show?
The stage design is remarkable as the crew works the small theater space wonderfully. Eye-catching paintings fill the backdrop, yet don’t overpower the actors.
The acting is side-splitting. Both the dialogue and the physical aspect that is a staple in vaudevilles.
An amusing aspect of both plays is how the actors break the fourth wall by speaking to the audience. It’s exceptionally well in breaking tension in a scene.
If there is a shining star throughout the production, it would have to be Lucy Celoni’s performance as the house servant Luka in “The Bear.” Celoni’s interaction with both Gabriela Maldonado’s Yelena and Peter Mendoza’s Grigory definitely garnered the most laughs.
Everything Celoni did for her part was brilliant: from her shuffle of a walk, her comical facial expressions, her frail frog-stuck-in-her-throat voice, to her witty banter with both of her castmates. It was all impeccable, especially the make-up that is used to transform her into the old delicate Luka.
Joe Robert Mejia, who plays the frantic Ivan in “The Proposal,” gives a wonderful performance embracing the physical, almost slapstick, humor by flailing himself all over the stage.
Kathryn Ventress and Polina Matveeva portray their roles as mother and daughter with intensity and hilarity. Matveeva, a native Russian, throws herself on the floor multiple times and breaks into a childlike fit, while Ventress shrieks towards Mejia’s character with surprising dramatic anger.
As for “The Bear,” Maldonado and Mendoza bring a palpable chemistry to their respective roles.
Mendoza brings physical humor to his role, while Maldonado enchants with her words and expressions.
In one of the most dramatic scenes between the two actors, a prop Smith and Wesson revolver broke on Maldonado, yet she quickly fixed it and stopped herself from breaking character.
As great as both plays are, they wouldn’t be as great if it weren’t for the music of The Chekhovians being played live: Peter Beburth on accordion, David Ybarra on guitar, Martin Lemus on Violin and Miguel Angel Delgado on guitar.
Beburth’s skillful accordion playing filled the hallways of the P2 building even before the show began, with the help of Delgado on the guitar. It not only entertained, but helped set the mood for the evening.
Delgado, along with Marissa Ruiz, will take over the roles of Ivan and Yelena for the second time this Sunday.
Chekhov may not have thought much of his plays, but the attendees sure did as they laughed at the troubles they themselves encounter in real life.
“The Chekhov Vaudevilles!… Featuring The Proposal and The Bear!,” which lasts a mere hour, closes this Sunday after a 2 p.m. matinee. Friday and Saturday’s shows begin at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 at the door, $7 with Associated Student Union membership.