Almost six months to the day of my last outing, I sat in the audience of a live theater feeling almost naughty.
With proper pandemic protocols in place, new and expensive air filtration, and a maximum occupancy of 51 in the audience, the staff at Gamut Theatre judiciously thought through all the safety aspects of semi-re-opening. Fortunately for the audience, the core staff doubles as cohabitating family, so the actors didn’t have to project their voices through masks.
On the surface, a play titled “Love Hurts,” written by the famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, might hint at a dramatically dark story line. Despite the time period of societal upheaval Chekhov wrote during, the script was funny—rife with slapstick, people yelling, over-the-top delivery and some old-fashioned misunderstandings. “Like an episode of ‘I Love Lucy,’” according to Director Clark Nicholson.
Executive Director Melissa Nicholson said, “For our first live show out of quarantine, we wanted to do something fun and silly, getting people laughing.”
“Love Hurts” contains two one-act plays: “The Marriage Proposal” and “The Boor.” Both plays feature a mixture of sparks and love between the main characters in an angrily fervent way that doubles as comedy.
In “The Marriage Proposal,” we meet the fretful Ivan Vassilevitch [Ross Carmichael], who has come to the home of Stephan Stepanovitch [Clark Nicholson] to propose marriage to the headstrong Natalya Stepanovna [Abby Carroll]. Carmichael’s stilted body language and stammering delivery perfectly embody an anxiety-riddled fellow who can’t quite confidently state his romantic intentions. I squirmed uncomfortably right along with that poor guy through every stutter, every heart palpitation.
When the characters fight and snap each other with hankies over non-issues, they cannot and will not attempt to find common ground. As tempting as it was to compare their devolving argument of insults to what I’ve read on my social media feeds for the past five years, Chekhov was really writing about human nature—simultaneously both simple and complicated.
Just as passionate, “The Boor” centers on a grieving, reclusive widow named Popova [Erin Shellenberger] and Smirnov [Lyeneal Griffin], a man who came to collect a debt her late husband owed. When Popova can’t and won’t immediately pay, Smirnov becomes enraged and refuses to leave. Luka the servant [Ross Carmichael] tries unsuccessfully to intervene in the sizzling fight that escalates. The hyperbole intensifies as the ranting characters oscillate between love and revulsion. And when the ranting becomes too intense, there’s a well-placed spit-take to slice the tension in half.
Any marriage proposal Chekhov wrote was certainly filled with more white-hot, blazing fire than my now-husband pitched me 20 years ago. I was washing the dishes in front of my kitchen sink. With my back turned, my beloved said, “So, are we getting married, or what?” I must have been smitten and naïve to fall for a line like that. Our daughter still can’t believe she came into the world because of us.
Gamut Theatre’s own family atmosphere is deeply rooted. “The Boor” was the first play husband-and-wife team Clark and Melissa performed as a company back in 1992 in South Carolina. To Melissa, the second play feels “relatable as an old[er] married couple.”
Now, 23 years later, the family has expanded and strengthened. While no other local theaters have been able to safely open, “To be able to do this in a room with an audience,” Clark said, “we’re giddy.”
“Love Hurts” runs Sept. 12-27. Tickets must be reserved online in advance, and will not be available at the door. Tickets are available for purchase through Gamut Theatre’s website at www.gamuttheatre.org/tickets.
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