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Ambition and sets outshine performances in Pantagleize's 'Chekhov Valentine'

A Chekhov Valentine

Through March 3

Pantagleize Theatre Company, 1115 Rio Grande Ave., Fort Worth


817-810-0850; www.pantatheatre.org

Posted 4:19pm on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013

All important writers have to start somewhere, and before Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov helped shape modern drama with his final four full-length plays, all major works in the canon, he wrote a ton of short stories and a handful of one-act plays.

Pantagleize Theatre Company, with its love of 20th- and 19th-century European playwrights, gives us three of those short plays in A Chekhov Valentine. Sadly, like much of what Pantagleize gives us, it's ambitious programming from co-founder/producer Violet O'Valle that's not realized by her director (in this case Jim Lott) nor (most of) the performers.

The plays -- The Brute (also known as The Bear or The Boor), A Marriage Proposal and A Wedding -- debuted in the late 1880s and are genuinely funny; farcical, even. The best of the three, A Marriage Proposal, suffers the most from ensemble members who are not on the same page in terms of acting style (and none of them are right for this era/writer/type of comedy).

Natalia (Mary Jane Greer) lives with her father, Stepan (Robert Rake), who is desperate to marry her off. Turns out, she's desperate too. The dad thinks a visit by Ivan (Aaron Plaskonos) is for him to ask for money, but he wants to ask permission to marry Natalia. All fine and good, except that before and after Natalia finds out about her potential fiancé, they're arguing about things you might expect to hear fights about during the marriage or after it's over, such as land, property and pets.

As he had in his earlier short stories, Chekhov shows a witty knack for language, such as when Stepan calls Ivan a "stuffed sausage" and "wizen-faced frump" (in one translation, at least).

The same problem with acting styles happens in the other two plays, and worse, accents are all over the place. Some attempt Russian, others slip into something that sounds vaguely Irish, while others try and stick with standard American English, which is how it probably should be across the board in this case, for an American troupe.

There are signs Pantagleize is growing, financially; David Hance's sets here, especially the table setting for A Wedding, are fantastic. While it's noble that some young and/or newbie actors are getting experience in classics, the problems with A Chekhov Valentine would be more easily forgiven if there was more consistency.

Go for a Sunday matinee and you will find one perk: tea and cake served, gratis, at intermission.

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