It’s been to the Chekhov International Theatre Festival and all the way to China, yet if there’s one thing that shocks actor and director Dean Gilmour about Chekhov’s Shorts, it’s the timelessness of the stories.
Gilmour and his partner, Michele Smith, have adapted five of Anton Chekhov’s short stories to form a play from the Russian writer’s non-theatrical work.
“It’s interesting because Chekhov died in 1904 and the stories are so contemporary that sometimes we wonder how he did it,” said Gilmour. “The way he wrote something so profound and so simple that it really speaks to people of all ages and around the world is impressive. We’ve taken it to China, we’ve taken it to Moscow and across Canada, and the stories really resonate.”
Chekhov has been hailed as a master of mood, lionized for his use of inaction and trivialities to illustrate the internal psychology of characters. Though a physician by day, he spent his entire life writing, initially as a means to earn money and later as the artistic calling, rendering him an icon of modern theatre and acting.
Though his short stories are well-known in Europe, North Americans gravitated to his four major plays: The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters.
“We did a production of The Cherry Orchard because we love Chekhov and we really wanted to explore his world; but we were very dissatisfied with it,” said Gilmour. “We didn’t feel like we had found something really unique. Something that was really ours.”
The pair began researching his work and discovered a short story actually planted the seed for The Cherry Orchard. They dug in, unearthing a wide range of brief fictional treats that eventually sowed a very fruitful production for Theatre Smith-Gilmour.
“Having that source that was not a play inspired us. There was a kind of freedom from preconceived notions and that’s how theatre should really be,” Gilmour said this week in a telephone interview reflecting on the decade old effort.
The pair chose the five short stories contained within as they’re loosely base around a “freedom” theme. From the texts of On the Train, Belikov, Sleepyhead, Kashtanka and Rothschild’s Fiddle, they built soon built a secondary storyline neither partner will ever forget—the story of how a Canadian theatre company produced a Chekhov play so enthralling it could show in Moscow at a festival dedicated solely to his work.
Chekhov’s Shorts debuted in Toronto in November of 1999 and ran through 2007, winning three Dora Mavor Moore Awards from the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts including Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Director and Outstanding Production. The company was asked to partner with actors in China to showcase the work before it was taken out of rotation.
The Kelowna show marks the first time it’s shown in five years.
Chekho’vs Shorts runs this Thursday through Saturday (Feb. 23-25) at 7:30 p.m. in the Rotary Centre for the Arts.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for students.