'Afterplay' is cancelled due to Covid-19
A man enters a Moscow café after a hard day’s rehearsal at the city’s opera house. He’s working on Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’ under the guidance of a draconian German conductor, while a teenaged protégé steals the limelight as Mimi.
Or is he?
Brian Friel’s slight-but-slightly-lovely one-act play is filled with ‘untruths’. The violinist, Andrey (Rory Keenan), and the woman he meets in the café, Sonya (Mariah Gale), are snatched from Anton Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ and ‘Uncle Vanya’. Over thin cabbage soup and semi-fresh bread (him) and cold tea with vodka added to it (her), they construct the stories of their existences. Andrey’s is full of flagrant lies, while Sonya’s is subtly but significantly altered to protect her emotions.
For people familiar with Chekhov, Andrey and Sonya start off seeming like pleasantly changed characters. Andrey, pampered and irresponsible in ‘Three Sisters’, appears driven and creative. Sonya, who in ‘Uncle Vanya’ deserves to be called ‘poor Sonya’ for how life always serves her shrivelled, juiceless lemons, also has the markings of a more together person. Seated at the table with her calculations and papers, laced into schoolmarm boots, there’s a no-frills modernity to her 1920s persona.
But the most Chekhovian thing of all about Friel’s play is how nothing has changed one bit. Andrey and Sonya (both peripheral characters in their original plays), are eventually forced back to their familiar narratives: she’s crushed by unrequited love and a life looking after others, and he’s still a fantasist trampled on by his wife, Natasha.
Both Keenan and Gale give strong performances – he’s all affable, easy charm, she’s stoic through and through. And Lucy Osbourne’s set is a gorgeous silvery, snow-pelted waiting room disconcertingly tilted. The whole piece never escapes the problems of Friel’s script (flimsy in some places and clunky in others), but it gets does get the emotion of its source material: doomed, trapped characters inevitably circling back to their preordained storylines.