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A comical Chekhov

The great Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov is, arguably, best known for his tragic dramas - Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, to name two.

Less known are Chekhov's many comedies and farces, which delighted audiences during one of Russia's most horrendous times, the late 1800s, when famine and strife tore through the country.

The Avenue Players will present two of the most charming - The Bear and The Proposal. The short farces (about 45 minutes each) will be performed back-to-back at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art Wednesday through Dec. 17.

Both involve unexpected romances between the most unlikely people.

The Bear (also called The Boor) opens as the young, lovely widow Yelena Ivanovna Popov (Kimen Mitchell, Anna in Anna Christie) mourns for her husband. Her servant Luka (Rick Kastel) urges her to remarry, but she has vowed to remain faithful to her husband's memory.

Just then, her neighbor Grigori Stepanovitch Smirnov (Victor Carr, Flugel in The Boor Hug) bursts in, demanding that the widow pay him a huge sum owed by her husband. She puts him off, but in doing so, they begin to argue over who is more faithful - men or women.

The argument escalates to the point that the widow fetches her husband's pistols, and it appears that a tragedy is in the making.

Fortunately, this is a comedy, so the action takes a surprising turn for the better.

In The Proposal, the comely daughter of a landowner, Natalya Chubukov (Melinda Greene, Hedda in Hedda Gabler), welcomes a neighbor, Ivan Lomov (Dan Diaz), not knowing that he has come to propose marriage.

In leading up to talk of matrimony, Lomov makes a casual remark about a piece of property that borders both his land and that of Natalya's father Stephan (Rick Kastel), which starts a loud argument between the two young people over who rightfully owns the little piece of land.

The conflict segues into an even louder disagreement over whose dog is smarter and better.

The whole thing convinces Lomov that he is ill - so ill that he slams out of the house without ever mentioning marriage.

But, again, the situation turns out as it should.

Tickets to the show include a mini-tour of the museum's new exhibit of Picasso ceramics a half-hour before curtain time; refreshments before and after the show and at intermission; and an audience talk-back/discussion after the second act.

IF YOU GO

Farce times two

What: The Bear and The Proposal.

Where: Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs (a half mile west of U.S. 19).

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Dec. 15; 2 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17.

Tickets: $8 for nonmembers of the museum; $5 for museum members and students. Call (727) 712-5762.

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