The interesting confluence of Theatre Smith-Gilmour and Anton Chekhov is in the consideration of style. Chekhov, as a master short story writer even before he was a success as a playwright, is all about the internal. Mood, character, expressionall very much an internalized process that finds its external realization in very low key, often imperceptible ways, until the writer gradually lets you in on his thinking and, by the end of the piece, you reach that part where you go: "Aha!" Such is the genius of Chekhov. Through their training in commedia, mime, and melodrama (which began at the l'Ecole Lecog), Theatre Smith-Gilmour is able to give startling expression to all of that inward musing that absorbs Chekhov's people: unexpressed love and longing, paranoia, rejection, illusions of grandeurall come out like floating soap bubbles and each time one pops by way of a gesture, expression or physical movement, we see another side of Chekhovian character revealed in a way that naturalism could never provide.
This unique approach has now consumed the company through three productions beginning with Chekhov's Shorts in 1999. Dr. Chekhov: Ward 6 is based on one of Chekhov's short stories that he produced with such prolificacy during his days in medical school and immediately thereafter as a practicing physician in rural Russia. What he saw and heard -- the cruelty and barbarism as well as the human kindness and love of beauty -- became the literary embodiment of the Russia of his day.
In 1890, Chekhov made the journey to the island of Sakalin in Siberia. There he visited a decrepit insane asylum that became the fictional institution that housed Ward 6. It was a place where patients were more humane and intelligent than their wardens and where physicians tried to provide a rationale for their work based on cynical analyses of conditions accompanied by oaths that were hypocritical rather than Hippocratic.
Paul Fauteux, Dean Gilmour, Ann-Marie Kerr, and Michele Smith portray life in Ward 6 with an astonishing range of dimension and a determined faith in the material that never lets them down. With plain yet effective set and costume design by Victoria Wallace along with the same subtleness and focus from lighting designer Kimberly Purtell, Dr. Chekhov: Ward 6 remains true to the spirit of the writer and the theatre that he created: simple, humane and honest.
Although Theatre Smith-Gilmour has announced that Dr. Chekhov: Ward 6 will mark the conclusion of this trilogy, one can only hope that they will rethink this plan and give us a few more plays. After all, look at how much time some companies dedicate to staying with Shakespeare or Shaw as a project. One could do worse than Chekhov -- much worse.
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