The Bear, one of Anton Chekhov”s many theatrical successes, ran for three nights this past week at the Schwartz Center as part of Cornell”s Black Box Series. The show managed to win over audiences despite being only 27 minutes long — an accomplishment which can be attributed both to the master playwright himself and the team responsible for bringing his one-act play to the Cornell stage.
Directed by Lance Hall (“06), The Bear is a story of love, death, and aggression, but ultimately it is a testament to the ever-present irony and comedy in life. As Hall noted, the play presents ‘a hilariously ridiculous caricature of the human condition. [It] shows what Chekhov was all about. He was dead serious about changing the world by making people see the humor in their situation. His plays are funny because they are so earnest.’ This tone certainly came across in Hall”s interpretation, which served up intellectual discourse for those who wanted it, as well as pure fun.
The Bear tells the story of a young widow, Yelena, who vows never to marry again and shuts herself away in her estate, to mourn her late husband in melancholy isolation. Her manservant, Luka, is her only caretaker. Limping around the house, he is unable to please his somber mistress, until, one day, a vigorous, belligerent young man named Grigory calls, vociferously demanding that debts be paid. Yelena refuses, the servant fumbles and Grigory rages. The results of the clash are hilarious and bizarre. In just under half an hour, we watch our main protagonists bicker, quarrel, take arms against each other and finally surrender to each other”s embraces, much to the amazement of confused Luka. Though the scenario might seem peculiar, the play is not at all unusual. Chekhov tried to create an element of realism in all of his works. The Bear, in this case, is a success as it humorously captures the senselessness in human actions and interactions.
This Black Box production featured Kristen Frazier (“05) in the role of Yelena, Matt Volner (“06) as Luka and newcomer Michael Ladd (“07) in the role of Grigory, the loud-mouthed ‘bear.’ Volner, a seasoned performer, displayed his natural flair for comedic physicality and timing and was cast perfectly in the role of the idiosyncratic servant, Luka. Frazier, a senior Theatre Arts major who was last seen in Be Aggressive, was thoroughly enjoyable as the forlorn and inwardly angry Lady of the House. She brought a great self-awareness to the role and demonstrated great sensitivity to the context of the play. Director, Hall points to her training. ‘Kristen is a very experienced actor in all kinds of roles, and she speaks “director.” I could use directing terms with her, because we’ve been through that training together,’ he said. Hall also stated that he was honored to have been the first to work with Michael Ladd on an official University production. The Bear was Ladd”s first show and, in it, he brought a personal intensity to the role that made up for any beginner”s shortcomings. All actors remained energetic onstage and the dynamic between them was wonderful to witness.
Other production credits include Yuka Terada, Ben Schmidt, and Chris Mullen in Costume, Lighting, and Set Design. The team brilliantly complemented the play”s tone with juxtaposed rich and muted colors, a basic, well accentuated set design and simple costuming which effectively suggested an era, without having to recreate it.
All things considered, The Bear was a great show — an excellent kick-off to the new Black Box season. Whoever said Chekhov was too heavy was wrong. This play was the perfect light fare that many theatergoers were looking for on Saturday night. So light, in fact, that — at only twenty-seven minutes — my only complaint is that I wish it had been longer.
Archived article by Lauren Simpson