“It goes right for the funny bone” says Elissa Bernard of Tiny Vaudevilles

Elissa Bernard of the Chronicle Herald reviews Tiny Vaudevilles. Read “Theatre review: Zuppa sparkles in Chekhov vaudevilles” below or at The Chronicle Herald.

Zuppa Theatre Co. doesn’t often play purely for laughs.

It goes right for the funny bone in Tiny Vaudevilles: Two Short Plays by Anton Chekhov, a two-hour evening of drama, song, jokes and frat-boy tricks with mousetraps, shaving cream and wordplay.

The audience is invited to buy $5 “drink-a-long” tickets for beer or vodka to join the actors when their characters’ imbibe. The joke is on Stewart Legere, who drinks eight shots of vodka by evening’s end and starts to lose his grip on his “Stephanovitches.”

Despite this wild card, Legere shines in both The Bear and The Proposal as a choleric, idiosyncratic man frustrated by the stubbornness of his fellow human beings.

These popular one-act plays, known as farce-vaudevilles, are clever jokes uplifted by their literary quality and Chekhov’s understanding of human frailty and foibles.

In The Bear, Susan Leblanc-Crawford is wonderful as a fierce, self-righteous and melodramatic young widow sworn to remain shut up indoors and true to her late husband, even though he was a cad.

Legere plays a middle-aged landowner about to lose his house and desperate for the widow to repay her husband’s debt. Legere makes his character’s inner struggle between alternately controlling and venting his anger hilarious.

The two have a battle of the sexes with Leblanc-Crawford up on the balcony, Juliet-like, and Legere below.

The Bear is the better staged play with the actors making great use of all the doors and balconies and even the outdoors in the Music Room. Because of sightlines in this venue, it’s hard to see any action on the floor and some of the floor-based physical comedy in The Proposal is lost to those in the back rows.

The three actors have worked together for over 10 years and are so skilled at comedy and so comfortable with each other it’s easy to lose sight of how good they are.

Leblanc-Crawford switches character totally in The Proposal to a plain and practical farm woman who argues furiously with her next-door neighbour (Legere), unaware he has just asked her hot-headed father (Stone) for her hand in marriage.

Outside of the farces, the three riff on their long-established roles in the company — Legere as the younger, cuter guy and fine musician, Stone as the older company co-founder who moans at being “the resident stuntman” and Leblanc-Crawford as the motherly go-between.

The company relies on its audience knowing its history and loving its style. (However, this is not necessary to enjoying the show.)

Let’s hope the Zuppas play in this type of sandbox again.