What do you get when you cross a mourning widow, an indebted man and a grouchy servant? A bear. Or, more specifically, “The Bear” by Anton Chekhov, a play directed by senior drama major Ali Sentmanat this semester.
After reading numerous plays, Sentmanat settled on “The Bear” as her Senior Studio in the fall of 2014. Though she had gone back and forth while considering other works, once Sentmanat found “The Bear” on the floor of Barnes and Noble, she knew she had found her play.
“The Bear” is a fast-paced, witty Russian farce, following the conflict that ensues when Elena Ivanovna Popova (senior Hannah Korman) refuses to pay the debt owed by her late husband to Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov (senior Simon Lemaire). Their argument quickly turns into a battle of the sexes, and they decide to duel.
Popova is young, in her 20s or 30s, Smirnov about 20 years older, and the servant, Luka (senior Evyan Melendez), in his 60s or 70s.
“What you get is this cool dynamic of ages,” Korman said. “It was written at this turning point in Russia where … there’s very much this difference in generations that’s happening.”
The designers for this production are drawing on Russia’s rich culture for inspiration in the design process. Set in a drawing room, elements such as lighting and sound will bring new dimensions to this production. Sentmanat is particularly enthusiastic about the sound design choices, with songs by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. Music, Sentmanat says, ties everything together in this play.
Written in 1888, “The Bear” reflects on historical gender and age stereotypes that persist today. Popova argues that all men are unfaithful slobs who are constantly angry and yelling. Smirnov, in turn, argues that women are vain for wearing makeup and only care about appearances.
As Popova and Smirnov fight, their conversation takes some interesting turns.
“He realizes that she has all this energy and she’s able to actually compete with him like no other woman ever before,” Sentmanat said. “Chekhov is making fun of those stereotypes because in the end, they don’t actually stick out any of the things that they believe.”
What had been a conversation with violent undertones becomes one with romantic overtones, fitting because actors Korman and Lemaire are engaged — and Sentmanat, in addition to being their director, is also in the wedding.
“It’s nice that we have this natural chemistry that we’re working with,” Korman said.
Love is in the air in all of the Senior Studios, a fact not lost on Sentmanat and her cast. As it so often happens, art is imitating life in this semester’s productions.
Sentmanat noted that not only “The Bear” but also “A Marriage Has Been Arranged,” directed by senior Matthew Sawczyn, and “The Doctor in Spite of Himself,” directed by senior Paul Lewis, also deal with the complicated and often comedic battle between the sexes — and the relationships that can result in spite of this battle.
“Ring by spring!” Sentmanat said. “Men and women are everywhere.”