Anton Chekhov ranks not far behind Shakespeare when it comes to his popularity as a playwright on stages around the world.
He's best known for his plays "The Cherry Orchard," "Uncle Vanya," "Three Sisters" and "The Seagull." The stories revolve around angst and indecision, falling in love and out of love. There are lots of emotions, but not much in the way of real action.
Director Genevieve Bennet says it's Chekhov's sense of humor that is often overlooked.
"I think that what happens is an audience gets into the theater and they say, 'It's Chekhov, it's serious, and it's sad,'" says Bennet, "and so they look for the sad."
Bennet says it's the tendencies of audiences and theater companies to take Chekhov too seriously that inspired the Twin Cities Chekhov Festival at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.
Local performer Dylan Fresco was inspired by the festival to create an evening of Russian love songs and poetry. Fresco says he has no problems relating to the characters in Anton Chekhov's plays.
"There's so much of, 'I hate you, leave me alone -- hey, where are you going? I love you!'" says Fresco, "and I certainly know I've had that in my life."
The theme of unrequited love abounds in "The Rain of Seagulls," a satire by local theater company Ministry of Cultural Warfare. It's just one of 17 productions that are part of the Chekhov Festival.
The festival does feature serious productions of Chekhov's work, but more companies chose to riff off the playwright and create their own, more comical work.
The program for a send-up of Chekhov's "Three Sisters" reads like a Cosmo quiz: "Plagued by headaches? Hate your job but keep getting promoted? You're an Olga. Feeling a little frustrated with your relationship? Wondering who let the dogs out? You're a Masha."
Festival director Genevieve Bennet says while we might not be living in 19th century Russia, Chekhov's work still resonates.
"His characters are people that are standing on the brink of something," says Bennet. "We're watching them attempt to deal with that huge change in an intensely personal way, to hang on to a sense of purpose or place in a world that's changing too fast for them to keep up. And I think that's a really contemporary struggle."
Bennet says she hopes the Chekhov Festival will simultaneously introduce audiences to the breadth and variety of Chekhov's work, along with the breadth and variety of the Twin Cities arts scene.
And for those who are sick and tired of a bitter winter, it might just give them a laugh.
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