The Yalta Game: Mixed Media | Quotidian Theatre Company

Laura Russell

To compliment our new production of Tony-winner Brian Friel’s Chekhov-inspired Afterplay and the world premiere of Jack Sbarbori’s translation and adaptation of Chekhov’s short story “A Little Trick”, Quotidian Theatre Company offers a free reading of The Yalta Game, Brian Friel’s adaptation of Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Lap Dog”, Monday evening in DC. Acting in The Yalta Game is Laura Russell, last seen in Dancing at Lughnasa, who discusses versions of the story:

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Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Lapdog” has been one of my favorites since I first read it in Russian lit class in college. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to portray Anna Sergeyevna in a reading of Friel’s play The Yalta Game, based on this story. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, it tells of an affair between two strangers who meet on holiday in Yalta, a popular Black Sea resort in the late 1800’s. As preparation, Quotidian co-founder Stephanie Mumford thought I might like to watch Iosef Kheifits’s film version of the short story, which was an entrant at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960. I took the DVD home and, one very hot Sunday, popped it into the player.

Alas, there were no subtitles, and my Russian language skills have rusted away to nearly nothing, so it was rather like watching a silent movie. One of the things that immediately struck me about the film was the sound of the pounding surf on the rocky Yalta beach promenade. The waves and wind were a constant presence, a reminder that the forces of nature are stronger that the petty problems of mankind. Although the film was true to nearly every physical detail of the short story, right down to the breed of lapdog and Anna Sergeyevna’s ridiculous lorgnette, I felt that the tale of love igniting between ordinary humdrum people was somehow distorted in its interpretation. Kheifits’s Anna and Gurov are far from ordinary. There is a sense of destiny about them, a magnetism that shouts from the screen. Though I couldn’t understand the words, I heard that message clearly.

I believe that the beauty of Chekhov’s tale of two nobodies who stumble into true love, and what that love does to them, is more fully realized in The Yalta Game.  I like that Friel’s reimagination of the story tells more of Anna Sergeyevna’s side. (Chekhov’s story is told from the point of view of Gurov.) The bored habitual philanderer and the restless but virtuous wife are not special. But what they find together is rare, painful, wonderful, terrifying.

It is a rare treat to be working with two of my favorite Quotidian comrades, Steve Beall, as Gurov, and Michael Avolio, director. I am so excited to be collaborating with these two talented men to bring life to the characters and work toward our goal of celebrating the “truth and beauty in the everyday.” The story we tell reminds me, an ordinary woman, that transcendence is not reserved solely for the powerful, the gorgeous, the charismatic. It is possible for us all.

~Laura Russell

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Monday, July 23: Quotidian Theatre Company presents a free reading of The Yalta Game by Brian Friel. Two strangers meet on holiday and begin an unlikely affair in this intimate, rarely-performed one-act play inspired by Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Lapdog”. Featuring Quotidian favorites Steve Beall and Laura Russell. Directed by Michael Avolio. All those who attend the reading will receive a “buy one, get one free” coupon for tickets to Quotidian’s production of Afterplay and A Little Trick. Please note, the reading will not be held at Quotidian’s usual venue in Bethesda, but at Flashpoint’s Mead Theatre Lab: 916 G St NW, Washington, DC 20001. Seating is limited and first-come, first-served. Doors open at 7pm; the event begins at 7:30pm. This is a free event.

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