Monday, August 14, 2017

Good intentions but few laughs in Stanford's 'The Many Faces of Farce'

Farce isn’t easy. Stanford Repertory Theater proves that point with “The Many Faces of Farce.”

It opens with three short plays by Anton Chekhov: “The Bear,” “The Proposal” and “The Anniversary.” It concludes after intermission with Vsevolod Meyerhold’s “33 Swoons,” as adapted by nine cast members.

In “The Bear,” Lillian Bornstein plays Popova, a young widow. Her self-indulgent mourning is interrupted by Smirnov (Matthew Libby). He says her husband owes him money that he must have now. She says she will pay him, but she can’t get the money for another day or so.

Insistence on both sides leads to a shouting match witnessed by the hapless maid, Lyuba (Heather Connelly).

A different dispute and shouting match form the center of “The Proposal.” Lomov (Adi Chang) wants to marry his neighbor, Natalya (Lea Zawada), but they argue about ownership of some land. After resolving that issue, they wrangle about who has the better dog. The third party in this dispute is Chubukov (Thomas Freeland), Natalya’s father.

In “The Anniversary,” a bank president, Shipuchin (Peter Townley), looks forward to its 15th anniversary. As he rattles on, his beleaguered bookkeeper, Khirin (Vineet Gupta), tries to complete a report. Both are interrupted by Shipuchin’s talkative wife, Tatiana (Bella Wilcox), and a woman (Malaika Murphy-Sierra) complaining that her husband has been unjustly fired.

All three one-acts are directed by Alex Johnson, SRT associate artistic director. More aptly, they’re misdirected by Johnson, who allows the actors to overact. Often they needlessly shout in the small space with the audience seated on three sides.

Likewise, Johnson directs “33 Swoons,” which is what Meyerhold called his 1935 production of the Chekhov pieces. The title comes from the total number of swoons in them.

Billed as performance art, “33 Swoons” starts chaotically with the actors, barefoot and attired in street clothes, wandering around the stage and tossing building blocks on the floor.

Several threads emerge. The most interesting involves parallels between the present and the way that Meyerhold’s production eventually led to his execution by the Stalinist regime. Statistics about Santa Clara County wealth and homelessness, among others, are projected onto a screen that was assembled by the actors during intermission.

Despite good intentions, the overall result seems amateurish. Nevertheless, one must salute the young performers’ enthusiasm and talent. They have much potential.

The simple set is uncredited, but the sound and lighting are by Dan Holland and John Bernard, respectively. Costumes by Alina Bokovikova are outstanding.

Running about two hours, “The Many Faces of Farce” will continue through Aug. 27 at Stanford’s Nitery Theater, 514 Lasuen Mall, Old Union. For tickets and information, call (650) 725-5838 or visit