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The Beacon Herald
Chekhov plays stake out new ground
By DONAL O'CONNOR, Stratford Beacon Herald

There's no mistaking Peggy Coffey's enthusiasm for the ground breaking project that Alternative Theatre Works has scheduled at Factory 163.

The Stratford actor, director and producer is pulling together a trio of plays based on the works of Anton Chekhov that the Irish playwright Brian Friel crafted and packaged back in 2001 as “Three Plays After.”

“This is a pretty ambitious program we're engaging in,” said Coffey who is the artistic director of Alternative Theatre Works.

Coffey herself will be directing “The Bear,” a melodrama that was so popular when it was initially staged that it surprised and embarrassed Chekhov. She's also acting in “The Yalta Game,” which Suzanne Turnbull is directing, and in “Afterplay” to be directed by Lionel Walsh.

Husband Robert King, well known for his many Stratford Festival performances, will perform in those two plays as well.

"The Bear" involves an encournter between a grieving widow and her rude landlord who is owed a debt. "The Yalta Game" is based on Chekhov's story "The Lady with the Lapdog," in which a vacationing man and woman find themselves attracted to one another.

"Afterplay" is Friel's imagined meeting in a Moscow cafe between Andrey Prozorov of Chekhov's "Three Sisters" and Sonya Serebriakova of his "Uncle Vanya" 25 years later.

The shows are scheduled for a Sept. 5 opening.

This summer's offering from Alternative Theatre Works stakes out new ground in a number of ways.

As far as Coffey knows, the three plays have never been offered as a triple bill. Usually they are paired in various combinations. But she points out the plays overlap thematically and are “very appealing and romantic and funny.”

Alternative Theatre is offering the complete package of plays opening night and when the plays close Oct. 11.

Double bills and one-show performances are being offered as well during the run with performances priced accordingly at $30, $25 and $15.

Added to the multiple stagings is the addition this season of the accomplished Canadian actors Andrew Gillies and Tyrone Savage to the cast.

Gillies is one of the country's most esteemed performers, said Coffey, and she is delighted to have him on board. His acting background includes 11 seasons at the Shaw Festival and two seasons at the Stratford Festival, including the current one. His many major roles in theatres across the country have included the title roles in “Cyrano De Bergerac” and “Hamlet” at Vancouver Playhouse.

Savage is currently in his second season with the Stratford Festival.

Joining Gillies and Savage will be Llyandra Jones who is completing her final year in the acting program at University of Windsor. The three will be performing in “The Bear.”

The inclusion of Jones in the cast as well as the involvement of Lionel Walsh as director of “Afterplay” especially pleases Coffey who wants to develop a strong mentoring component at Alternative Theatre.

Walsh is associate dean at University of Windsor and it was during a training session in Boston last summer that she and Walsh discussed the idea of staging Friel's Chekhov adaptations.

The mentoring notion is being realized as well through costume designer Amanda MacArthur who is in her final year of an honours drama program at the university.

She's using the show as a course credit, which Coffey says is “absolutely wonderful.”

And there's more.

The home-grown alternative theatre is joining forces with Off The Wall which offers courses in theatre production arts, including set design. Students taking part in the current set design course were challenged to design a set that could accommodate the three Friel/Chekhov works.

“It's quite amazing what they've come up with. It's beautiful,” said Coffey.

Productions staged at Alternative Theatre Works so far have not had sets to speak of, but with the period pieces being staged this time the designed set will step up the productions.

Jessica Seguin, a Stratford resident and grad of University of Toronto and Sheridan College combined arts program, will be stage managing the shows.

Tickets are available at Fanfare Books, Music in Sebringville, Stewart Books in St. Marys and online at