by Lynn on February 23, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer


At  The Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. West at University Avenue, Toronto. Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Kyra Harper. Designed by Glenn Davidson. Starring Steve Cumyn, Tracey Ferencz.

Plays at Campbell House until March 1, 2014.

416-597-0227 x 2.

I am so glad I was able to see this wonderful production, what with all the theatre in the city.

Like Chekhov, Irish playwright, Brian Friel knows a thing or two about mixing heartache and humour to great effect. In Afterplay,  Friel’s exquisite 2002 one act play, he has created a what-if scenario. What if Sonya, the stoical, hard-working heroine of Uncle Vanya, met Andrey, the pampered, full of promise brother of three sisters, in Three Sisters, years after their individual stories concluded? What would happen? Could they, would they end up together?

Friel’s delicate rendering of the journey for both characters makes this a wonderful ache of a play. They both meet in Moscow by accident, in a small cafe. In a last ditch effort, Sonya has come to meet a bank manager, among others, to discuss a loan to help her run her estate. She used to run it with her Uncle Vanya, but he took over and ran it into the ground. She comes armed with letters, maps and charts to win over the bank manager.

Andrey, long hoped to be a professor by his three sisters, has had bad luck too. His marriage was not happy. His prospects were not realized because he drank and gambled his prospects away. Now he is in Moscow to play his violin in an orchestra he tells Sonya. They met the night before by accident; struck up a conversation; and by all accounts had a good time.

The next day, Sonya is at the cafe again, papers spread out over her small table, trying to find a way out of her predicament. When Andrey comes in, violin under his arm, balancing a bowl of soup and fresh brown bread, he is happy to see her. She is so pre-occupied she can’t remember him. He persists gently and she finally recalls the night before. She clears the table of the papers and he sits to share the table.

They slowly reveal pieces of their histories, each referencing their individual plays (Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters). Sonya has a great friend, a conservationist, named Michael Astrov whom she obviously loves. Andrey is very proud of his wife Natasha and his two accomplished children. As they banter cracks begin to appear in their stories.  We realize the truth and how difficult these two people have in dealing with their lives. There is great compassion and understanding between the two. This allows them to open themselves up and finally tell the truth.

Is there a future for these two wounded souls? Friel does create the possibility. Does one need to know the two plays where Sonya and Andrey first appeared to fully appreciate Afterlife? No. The information from these two characters is revealed delicately, slowly, sensitively and at its proper pace thanks to a gifted playwright. And Friel is beautifully served by an equally sensitive and gifted cast, Steve Cumyn as Andrey and Tracey Ferencz as Sonya and an accomplished director in Kyra Harper.

The setting is enchanting. We are in the Grand Ballroom of The Campbell House Museum at the corner of Queen Street and University Avenue. Designer Glenn Davidson has fitted the room out with round tables and chairs, each table with a lit candle, as if in a café. Tea and traditional Russian cookies are provided as part of the ticket price.

At the front of the room is Sonya’s table with a half glass/cup of tea and papers, maps etc. and a pencil, strewn across it. A coat tree has her cloak draped over it, stage left. As Sonya, Tracey Ferencz is consumed with worry when she enters; brow creased. She pours over the strewn papers looking for any sign that she can cope with her financial predicament.

As Andrey, Steve Cumyn is dressed in a suit and formal bow-tie. His violin case is tucked under one arm and he balances a plate with a bowl of soup and fresh brown bread on the side. He looks successful but his demeanour  is a bit tentative; halting. He is happy to see her and is eager for her to remember him from the night before.

Both Sonya and Andrey have secrets they try to hide from the other, using a brave face, a tight smile and a buoyant delivery. When the cracks in their stories appear, there is embarrassment, regret, and a real desire to come clean with the truth. Andrey’s urgency to keep in touch with Sonya is truly heart squeezing.  Her reaction in reply is equally so.

Director Kyra Harper directs this with understanding, sensitivity and a keen idea of how to get the best out of the play and into our hearts. It’s really about two people sitting at a table telling the other about their lives. Occasionally one gets up for water or to take the soup bowl to a sideboard, but that’s all the movement that is needed. I know it’s tempting to want to move the characters more, to vary the audience’s concentration on Sonya and Andrey, but it’s not necessary. Harper and company put us right in that world and held us there.

Chekhov writes his characters with affection. Friel writes the same characters with compassion. A subtle difference but still compelling.

Afterplay is a shimmering gem of heartache and regret and yearning and missed chances. It’s indie theatre at its best. Artists making their own luck by putting on a play with little money, less time to rehearse, but tons of passion and commitment. The result is glorious. Don’t miss this.

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