Play based on Russian author’s work gets a twist by local playwright
Kanutu Theatre’s Monica Walsh stars in “The Lady with the Lap Dog— A Short Play,” opening at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre tonight. — Submitted photo
What’s the first thing you do if you’re commissioned to write a one-act play inspired by a short story by one of Russia’s most renowned authors?
If you’re Andy Jones, you find the most dramatic moment in the story— and then you write the opposite of it.
“I started to wonder, what would happen if it went this way, and I started writing. The result is almost a mirror image of the original story,” Jones says.
Jones was commissioned to write the piece, “The Lady with the Lap Dog — A Short Play,” by Kanutu Theatre founder Monica Walsh, based on Anton Chekhov’s short story, “Lady With the Dog,” published in 1899. The original Chekov play tells the tale of a Russian banker’s affair with a young woman he meets on holiday.
Jones acknowledged being asked to write a play based on such a well-known piece of literature was
a daunting task, especially considering the time constraint— the piece was completed in about a month, he said, thanks to some help. Jones solicited feedback from his writing students, writer friends, and friends in the acting world, like Bob Joy.
“I fell in love with the Chekhov story, but then, in writing the play, I walked away with the characters’ names, location and the title, but that’s about it,” Jones says, laughing.
While his play and the original story might not have much in common, Russian and Newfoundland ways of life do, at least historically, Jones says.
“I started reading (Chekhov’s) work in university, when I had to do an assignment on Chekhov, and I loved his stuff so much. I started reading the short stories — he wrote about 200 of them — and I was totally fascinated. Something about the Newfoundland material and Russian material seemed to meld,” he explains.
“Everything in Newfoundland seems very dramatic; life was very dramatic here one time, and the humour is in Chekhov making fun of that. Everyone is desperately unhappy but the stories are humorous.”
This is the third year in a row that Kanutu Theatre has produced “An Evening of Chekhov,” but the first for which a play was commissioned.
“The Lady With the Lap Dog — A Short Play,” directed by Charlie Tomlinson, stars Walsh and Steve Lush. It will be followed by a reading of the one-act sketch, “A Drama,” based on “A Play,” Chekov’s story about a famous playwright forced to listen to an aspiring writer who insists on him listening to her play.
The piece is a work in progress, being adapted for the stage by Walsh and Bryan Hennessey, who also stars in it.
The show opens tonight at 7 p.m. at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, and runs until Saturday night, with a pay-what-you-can matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Regular tickets are $20 ($15 for seniors, students and artists), and they’re available by calling 729-3900 or online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.