The United Players of Vancouver

A Month in the Country
by Brian Friel
adapted from Ivan Turgenev

Date 3 - 26 June 2005 Venue Jericho Arts Centre Reviewer Jane Penistan


 

Director Bernard Cuffling Sets Chris Shain Costumes Naomi Lazarus Lighting James Foy Sound Jesse Frank Stage Manager Laura Dodwell-Groves

 

 


United Players:A Month in the Country

Bernard Cuffling has elected to use a large, horseshoe -shaped playing area for this interesting and entertaining adaptation of Turgenev's only known play.

Against a beautiful, apparently three-dimensional, forest backdrop is the garden terrace of the wealthy Arkady Yslayev estate.

The period costumes are elegant and worn with an air of familiarity. The older women wear magnificent crinolines, which they manage with aplomb, while the younger ones have colourful full skirts and decorated blouses. The servant, Matvey, is attired in the traditional voluminous pants, full sleeved shirt and black waistcoat familiarised by Russian dancers. The gentlemen are attired in swallowtails or frock coats, with well, or not so well, tied stocks, fitted trousers, or breeches, with shoes or boots.

As the lights go up various characters cross the playing area only to disappear, while a table is set by two flirting servants, Matvey (Crispin Bryce) and Katya (Naomi Daynewood).

An aristocratically dressed, middle-aged quartet enter to play cards and exchange humourous banter. These are Natalya, a fashionably dressed hostess (Jennifer Kaleta), a woman who loves life and male company, and Anna, the matriarch (Gaye LePage), a wise, older lady, the mother of Arkady, who now runs the estate. She is attended by Lizaveta, her companion (Nina Shoroplova). The gentleman is Schaaf, a houseguest, swaggeringly played by Derek C.Carr, with a great sense of Schaaf's self-importance.

Arkady (Robert Duncan) brings in plans for future improvements to the estate, which he shows to Shpigelsky, the local doctor (Luke Day) who accompanies him, Michel (Dean Wunsch) and the card players. Vera, Arkady, and Natalya's ward, well and believably acted by Lisa Oppenheim and Aleksey, her tutor, a young university student, whom she teases (Chris Cope), chase across the garden, interrupting their elders with their romping.

 

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In the course of the evening it becomes clear that Natalya is bored with her hard-working, earnest husband and his obsession with improvements to the estate. She craves the adulation of younger men and the excitement of affairs. Already half in love with the adoring Michel, a visitor and friend of her husband, she now seduces the bewildered but flattered tutor, Aleksey.

Vera awakens to adolescent awareness of the attractiveness of young men. To her dismay, she learns that her guardians are encouraging a local elderly farmer, Bolshintov (Dick Pugh) to pay court to her. This bashful farmer seeks advice from the rascally but kindly, rogue of a doctor, Shpigelsky. The lesson in courtship is one of the funniest scenes of the evening.

Ultimately, Aleksey decides he must leave the disturbing advances of Natalya and Vera and return to the city, but before he can go he is dismissed by Arkady, though a powerful Natalya almost persuades him to stay, and a tearful Vera is left lonely. Michel also has to return to Moscow on business, as he cannot continue in the present confusion.

Wise, reasonable counsel from Anna persuades Natalya of the sterling qualities of her husband and the value of a bucolic enduring life style, rather than only a month in the country.

Brian Friel has retained the essential Russian theme of leaving the dissatisfying present status quo for an imagined better future in the city, but never quite achieving the escape, a theme that runs through Chekov's much later plays. Bernard Cuffling and his cast enjoy the humour and wit of this version of Turgenev's play, while allowing the bitterness and sadness to be felt. This is a most satisfying end to an excellent season by the United Players. Accolades all round.

2005 Jane Penistan

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