Feature: A Look Inside "Anton's Shorts" - Maybe the Funniest Chekhov You’ll Ever See

Posted August 11, 2023

AS Gwen Blog

By Gwendolyn Rice

American Players Theatre is not a company that does things in a hasty, slap-dash way. But when the COVID-19 pandemic closed all the theaters in 2020, the troupe put together an online performance of three short plays by Anton Chekhov, recorded in the actors’ homes in front of laptop cameras after only a few hours of rehearsal. The plays were broadcast on PBS so that while the public was confined to their homes, they could get a small glimpse of the theater they were missing.

The first of many online performances we would watch that year, the form was wonky, the sound was temperamental, the props and costumes were improvised, but the plays were very funny and the performances were memorable. More than that, they were a balm in a distressing time.

To make sure that the actors performing these short Chekhov works were in good hands, APT’s Artistic Director Brenda DeVita hired nationally known director and playwright, Aaron Posner to direct the online performance. (This is roughly the equivalent of hiring Lin Manuel Miranda to write a song for your cousin’s birthday party.)

A devotee of Chekhov, Posner has freely adapted some of the Russian playwright’s great works to tremendous acclaim. His re-imagining of Chekhov’s The Seagull, titled Stupid F**king Bird, was one of the ten most produced plays in the country in 2015 and has had more than 250 productions worldwide. And Life Sucks, his modern take on Uncle Vanya, has also been performed widely.

So it is not surprising that, two years later, DeVita commissioned Posner to revisit the hastily realized pandemic piece and develop something more substantial for APT’s regular season. This is part of an ongoing creative relationship that APT enjoys with Posner, who has directed five full productions with the company since 2011, including The Glass Menagerie, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Endgame, Heartbreak House, and The Rivals.

Opening on August 12 and running in the outdoor Hill Theatre through October 6, Posner’s Anton’s Shorts includes five of Chekhov’s many “vaudeville” comedies; The Bear, On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, The Proposal, Swan Song, and I Was a Moscow Hamlet. In a recent interview, Posner said, “I picked the best ones. These are the ones that spoke to me. They are small works of great craft. This is not Chekhov in his full complexity, it’s him in clown mode.”

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