Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The Bear and Afterplay
Also see Rebecca's recent reviews of Head Over Heels and Unfinished Women Cry in No Man's Land While a Bird Dies in a Gilded Cage
Friel adapted The Bear from one of Chekhov's short plays. A long-grieving widow named Popova is visited by a local farmer named Smirnov, who demands payment for a debt owed by Popova's late husband. The two characters engage in a battle of wills, which eventually leads to an unexpected conclusion. The Bear is a sort of romantic comedy that explores themes of grief and pride.
In Afterplay, Friel imagines what would happen if two of Chekhov's most tragic characters–Sonya from Uncle Vanya and Andrey from Three Sisters–met in a Moscow cafe twenty years after their respective plays ended. Both characters have experienced profound disappointment and unfulfilled dreams. Together they share a revealing conversation and an authentic if fleeting connection.
Zaferes's set for The Bear has an effective minimalist vibe, but the space ultimately feels too cramped for the actors. With endless bravado and over the top energy, Brian McManus is every bit the brutish bear of the play's title. He is very funny, but because he never really connects with Barbaraluz Orlanda as Popova, some of the jokes just don't land right. For her part, Orlanda is delightful as the over-dramatic and self-defeatingly vindictive Popova. It is the lack of authentic feeling between the pair that keeps The Bear from being completely successful.
In Afterplay, Kirsten Quinn gives a gorgeously nuanced performance as quietly stoic Sonya. Rob Hargraves has a charming exuberance as well-meaning but ultimately misguided Andrey. Quinn and Hargraves have a captivating chemistry that evolves over their brief but meaningful time together. Jack Zaferes's minimalist set design is perfectly evocative for their bittersweet scene.
The Irish Heritage Theater's production of The Bear and Afterplay may not be perfect, but it is still a heartfelt and thought provoking play. Afterplay in particular offers insight into the nature of human connection that is fascinating to experience.
Irish Heritage Theatre's The Bear and Afterplay runs through March 19, 2023, at Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit irishheritagetheatre.org.