Arts & Life, Theatre

Five reasons to check out Chekhov

This week the 13th Master Playwright Festival kicks off with an all-you-can-eat buffet of Russian playwright, author and census taker Anton Chekhov. Why should that have you raising your vodka, crying Ваше здоровье! and heading to the Master Playwright Festival website where you can find all the details? I’ve got five good answers for you:

1) A true Winnipeg writer

Yeah, he never visited. And likely never knew the city existed. But there’s something in his works that finds a poignant echo in our frigid wonderland. The emerging middle class – made of fallen nobility or rising young professionals – dreaming of a better life in a distant, warmer city? People too hampered by politeness and social convention to say what’s in their hearts? The struggle to keep optimism alive despite life’s disappointments? Yeah, this guy got us.

Who is John Moe? Productions play Three Sisters: A Black Opera in Three Acts.
Who is John Moe? Productions play Three Sisters: A Black Opera in Three Acts.

2)  Because screw you, winter

You’re going to stay inside just because it’s cold out? We didn’t think so. And Netflix will still be there tomorrow.

3)  You can pick your poison

You know that hackneyed advertising phrase “There’s something for everyone,” right? Well there isn’t. If you enjoy sticking your junk in a vice while Disney princesses beatbox, you’re hooped. But the festival does pack a tonne of options, from full stage production in intimate venues (Ivanov, Three Sisters, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard), cheeky responses to Chekhov’s work (F#©koff Check-off,  About Love & Champagne), radio readings and smaller, shorter obscure plays sure to up your hipster cred.  22 shows with ticket starting at $10 (though you can see everything with a Festival Pass for $85 aka $3.86 a show) should keep you busy into February without crushing your wallet.

Theatre by the River / little ECHO theatre's production of The Cherry Orchard. Photo: Dylan Hewlett.
Theatre by the River / little ECHO theatre’s production of The Cherry Orchard. Photo: Dylan Hewlett.

4)  Who’s short story’s daddy? Chekhov is

Remember when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature not too long ago. English writers and media shouted her praise as “Our Chekhov.” There’s a reason. More than plays and novels, Chekhov was a master of the short story, penning hundreds in a life clipped short by tuberculosis at age 44. He was part of that phenomenal late 19th century wave of artists who brought a little style called “realism” into the spotlight, replacing melodramatic action and stock characters with the grounded, psychologically rich thinking of people like you and me.

5)  Because he’s funny

A man doesn’t know how to talk to the woman he’s crushed on for years, so he “moos” at her. An uppity servant loses his shit whenever asked to fetch the horses. A man whose face is pockmarked and scarred suffers the nickname “Waffles.” While tragic stories might be the backbone of Chekhov’s plays, he’s all about laughing into the pain. There’s that Winnipeg sensibility again.

Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.