**** out of *****
Forgoing my usual routine of reviewing a movie last weekend, I instead attended a performance of the CSU Theater program’s production of “33 Swoons.”
The oddly-titled “33 Swoons” (which refers to the number of fainting spells in the play) adapts he works of Anton Chekhov and features everything from one act plays and “dramatic studies” to pantomimes and even a young woman dancing with a flaming Hula-Hoop.
This all sounds like it could result in a serious case of theatrical whiplash, but surprisingly enough the whole thing holds together pretty well, resulting in a truly unique and memorable experience.
The wildly diverse plays and sketches that comprise “33 Swoons” aim to represent an evening of Russian vaudeville at the turn of the twentieth century. As such, the set consists of a proscenium arch, allowing the audience to witness scene changes, as well as the actors who aren’t currently onstage.
All of this requires an even more forceful suspension of disbelief than is usually required at a theatrical production since we are constantly being reminded that we are watching a play. However, it is precisely because “33 Swoons” functions as a sort of “meta-play” that makes the experience of watching it so distinctive and fun.
The play begins with a sketch entitled “The Death of Government Clerk,” which takes place at a performance of the symphony.
Ivan (Luke Karn), a government clerk in attendance, despite all his willpower and might, violently sneezes on the neck of his boss, General Dmitri Brizzhalov (Bob Mitchell), who is sitting in the row in front of Ivan.
Ivan is ever-apologetic, but the situation soon devolves when Ivan refuses to cease apologizing, eventually irritating the general to such a degree that he fires the clerk.
The whole scene is played as farce, resulting in some big laughs as the situation grows more absurd.
The scene also prepares the audience for the play’s other farces, including “The Proposal” (where a wedding proposal degenerates into a property dispute), “The Wedding” (which features a senile naval captain as a wedding crasher), and “The Brute” (where a debtor falls in love with a feisty woman who owes him money).
There are also some highly poignant moments in “33 Swoons” that offset the farces, the most affecting of which is “Sleepyhead,” where a nurse (Erin Fried) tries to stay awake while rocking a baby to sleep.
This juxtaposition of comedy and drama is tricky, but for the most part director Walt Jones and his capable troupe of actors handle it well. What the play is missing is a sense of cohesion. Almost all the individual scenes of “33 Swoons” are interesting by themselves, but there’s not really anything, thematic or otherwise, to tie them together into something greater.
Nevertheless, “33 Swoons” still provides a singular and entertaining night of theater.
Movie reviewer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.