Reviewed by Andrew Snowdon
90 minutes / Comedy / G
Semyon Semonovich (Drew Moore) is an unemployed man living with his wife Masha (Victoria Luloff) and mother-in-law Sarafima (Dyna Ibrahim) in 1920s communist Russia. Seeing no hope left in his life, he resolves to kill himself. His wife and his mother-in-law enlist the help of their recently-widowed neighbour Alexander (Mitchel Rose) and his recently acquired mistress Margarita (Hannah Gibson Fraser) in an attempt to stop him. However, to a philosophical or political cause, a dead man is often more useful than a live one. Enter the intellectual Aristarkh (James Smith), artist Victor (Nicholas Fournier), romantic Cleo (Caitlin Corbett), and revolutionary Marxist idealist postman Yegor (each of whom want to take advantage of Semyon’s imminent suicide for their own ends. In short, it’s a Soviet counterpropaganda farce, and you can imagine how much Stalin liked it (not enough to let it open; Soviet Russia’s loss is our gain).
Technically, this is a remount. The cast, a large one for a Fringe show, are students at the Ottawa Theatre School where this production enjoyed a run in April, under the direction of theatre (and Fringe) veteran Pierre Brault. The set uses very rudimentary furniture to evoke the Spartan poverty of Semyon’s apartment; precise lighting and a wicked soundtrack (Dave Brubeck arranged for four tubas, and more) to establish and maintain the mood. Oh, and there is a coffin… and a tuba.
This is a highly symbolic or representative play, in that each of the characters personifies a sector of society or a philosophical ideal. Each actor brings their character into sharp relief. The costumes, the staging, and the posture of the characters work together to subtly evoke the aesthetic of Soviet propaganda posters. Most of all, it’s funny. This class is working together well as an ensemble; they’re obviously comfortable enough as actors and with each other to pull off the interwoven rhythm of the text. Half of the humour is in the text, but the other half is in the timing, and they’ve got that very nearly perfect.
90 minutes may seem long for a Fringe show, but the seating in Café Alt is mostly soft couches, and the play stays entertaining for the full running time.
The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman is playing at Cafe Alt – BYOV F Friday June 15 at 6:00pm, Saturday June 16 at 6:00pm, Sunday June 17 at 8:30pm, Monday June 18 at 8:00pm, Wednesday June 20 at 8:00pm, Thursday June 21 at 7:30pm, Friday June 22 at 7:30pm, Saturday June 23 at 7:30pm, and Sunday June 24 at 6:00pm.