The Yalta Game · Afterplay
8 March 2008
The motifs for The Yalta Game and Afterplay, two one-act plays by acclaimed Irish playwright and doyen of the Irish theatre Brian Friel, come from the work of a famous dramatist and writer who Friel greatly admires – Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. The plays draw on Chekhov’s work in interesting and particular ways.
The Yalta Game (2001) is a dramatisation of the famous short story Lady With Lapdog (1899). A young woman and a middle-aged man meet amidst the bored guests in the seaside resort Yalta on the Crimea. Though both married, they are spending their holidays on their own. Slightly shy, she has fresh and unaffected nature and is not particularly happy in her marriage; he is also unhappy with his wife and as a result has numerous love affairs. The adventure between the two protagonists seems to be short-lived, just another one in a series of similar affairs in the cynical playboy’s career. But when the “lovers” return to their respective homes, the real pangs of love begin for them. Not only can they not forget their holiday affair, but they begin to realize that a real, deep and unconquerable love has sprung up between them. There is no way out – they have to meet again, to be together and face all the difficulties that their emotions have in store.
Afterplay (2002) is an original work featuring two Chekhovian characters who meet twenty years later. Sonya from Uncle Vanya, “re-animated and re-conceived,” and Andrey Prozorov from The Three Sisters meet in a shabby Moscow café just after 1920. They are now middle-aged but, despite all they have experienced, have kept almost all their youthful characteristics. Sonya is still hard-working and hopelessly in love, trying to save what can be saved from the family estate in new and unkind times. Prozorov remains the indecisive boy who wants to please everybody and always fails. The play is interesting not only because of Friel’s rendering of the protagonists’ stories and destinies, but especially because of the way he extends the entanglement of illusions and delusions into the characters’ new circumstances. The dreams and fantasies of both characters keep colliding with cruel reality, and even though they realized long ago that they have spent their lives in the waiting room of life, they can’t do anything but collect pieces of consolation that help continue the illusion so that, for a while, they can live again.
Despite its inspiration in the essential characteristics of Chekhov’s protagonists, Friel masterfully creates his play as an independent and witty depiction of human stories and destinies – one doesn’t necessarily need to know Chekhov to enjoy it. If one does, however, the pleasure of seeing the performance is all the greater.
Festival of Chamber Theatre (SKUP)