Review: Herringbone and The Yalta Game, in Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on January 26, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont.


Written by Tom Cone

Additional lyrics by James Smith and Dylan Trowbridge

Additional music by James Smith

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Lighting by Jeff Pybus

Cast: Mike Nadajewski

James Smith

Yalta Game

Written by Brian Friel

Based on a short story by Anton Chekhov

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Lighting by Jeff Pybus

Cast: Mike Nadajewski

Madelyn Kriese

James Smith

Herringbone is a play written by Canadian Tom Cone, who set it in Alabama. It’s about  George Herringbone named after the material of his first suit. He is an adult vaudevillian, but his bitter life from when he was 10-years-old has marked him.  His shiftless parents tried to pass him off as a 35-year-old midget (the word used in the play) for the circus. He had no time to be a kid. His parents did not provide the emotional support for him and so he grew up to be a cynical, if not bitter, adult.

Yalta Game is based on Chekhov’s story, “The Lady With a Dog,” adapted by Brian Friel, the celebrated Irish playwright.  It takes place in Yalta at the end of the 19th century. Dmitry Gurov is a banker who has come to Yalta, leaving his wife at home, to stroll along the beach front, have coffee in cafes, chat up the wait staff, observe the passing parade and imagine all manner of back stories for all of them. That is the Yalta game. He’s a dreamer.

One day he sees a young woman with a dog—a Pomeranian—and is charmed by her, the woman, not the dog. Her name is Anna Sergeyevna (the woman is named Anna, not the dog.)  He introduces himself. He charms her with his stories of all the people passing by. They begin keeping company. They form a relationship. They fall in love. But there are their spouses to think about—well really hers, we don’t hear anything about his wife. What to do?

These two plays could not seem more different. They take place in different countries with different sensibilities and the characters don’t seem to have anything in common. But leave it to the blazing theatrical brain that is Arkady Spivak, the Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre, to find a connection and an irresistible reason to see them both.

In George Herringbone and Dmitry Gurov we have two people trying to escape a life they do not want. George’s life was marked since he was 10-years-old.  He got no love and support from his parents. He was used as a commodity. Dmitry Gurov does not want to be encumbered with a wife or a job in a bank. He wants to live a life of leisure and imagining, and he probably wants to spend it with Anna.

The irresistible reason to see both these plays is Mike Nadajewski. He has a body that has elastic bands where there should be bones. His movements are fluid, graceful and almost seem like dancing.

In Herringbone he plays not only George Herringbone as both a kid and an adult, but also his ear-scratching, demure mother, his gruff sounding father, his impish, late uncle and all manner of other characters, each fresh and distinct. Nadajewski flits from character to character with a bundle of physical ticks and nuance, and when you think Nadajewski has depleted his arsenal of invention, he flops on the ground in a thwak to take on another aspect of George you don’t expect. Nadajewski is so full of humour, humanity and artistry that you cover your eyes and shake your head in disbelief. And he sings beautifully.

In Yalta Game Nadajewski’s performance as Dmitri is of a suave, charming man. He loves words. They pour out of him in spurts of descriptions and imaginative suggestions. He makes the words sound intoxicating and delicious. Dmitry almost makes himself drunk on his own invention.

As Anna, Madelyn Kriese is charm itself. Anna is poised, intrigued by George, young but not naïve and is as taken by Dmitri as he is by her.

James Smith does not just provide the musical piano accompaniment, he wrote the music and lyrics for Herringbone, provides a foil for George, and appears as the street musician playing the accordion for heaven sake, in Yalta Game.

Both are directed with care and sensitivity by Dylan Trowbridge. Both he and Mike Nadajewski mine the gold in each play and produce an evening of wonderful theatre.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Jan. 24, 2020.

Closes: Feb. 1, 2020.

Running time: two hours, including an intermission.

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