a full play in miniature, and more like a campfire skit at summer camp.
Still, because they are condensed, when they are done well, the emotions they convey can be they can be impressively rich, like the thick sweet jam left from a kettle of fruit, intense and delicious and a little bit bigger-than-usual.
So when the short play is a comedy, the result, in a well-written, well-acted, well-directed short play, can be absolutely hilarious.
With Valentine’s Day looming, two local theater companies are offering separate showcases of quick, comedic plays, fast and furious, all written in the loopy language of love.
In the intimate Studio Theater at 6th Street Playhouse, From Russia With Love is a high-spirited assemblage of shorts by Russian author Anton Chekhov, better known for his tragic plays ‘The Cherry Orchard and ‘Uncle Vanya.’ Anchored by two classics of the short-form comic romance—‘The Bear’ and ‘The Marriage Proposal’—the show elegantly intertwines the text of real love letters from Chekhov—played with humor and cagey coy flirtation by Adam Palafox—to his distant wife Olga (Yelena Segal). The letters add an unexpected dose of tender, heart-warming emotion to the whole show.
The Bear, directed by Eyan Dean, gives us a grief-stricken widow (Taylor Differnderfer) who swears she’ll never leave her house again, and whose self-indulgent mourning period is rudely interrupted by the intrusion of a gruff, blustery businessman (Ryan Severt), who arrives to collect a debt and ends up falling in love—with disastrous and rather funny results, that include a duel by pistols.
In The Marriage Proposal, directed by Palafox, a wildly hypochondriac landowner (Matt Cadigan) attempts to propose to Natalia (Segal), the daughter of his affable neighbor Stepan (Clark Miller). But before he can manage to propose, he is drawn into a series of petty escalating arguments with his still-unaware intended, who might actually be interested if he’d stop disagreeing with her and propose.
Feisty, physical and farcical in the extreme, these two laugh-inducing bon mots are delivered in a 90-minute package that might make you rethink everything you believed about Chekhov. Evidently, he was a very funny guy, and . . . he sure had a way with a love letter.
SO that’s ‘From Russia With Love.’ Then there’s ‘In Love with the 8X10,’ presented by Lucky Penny Productions, in Napa.
Eight ten-minute shorts culled from over 100 submissions from around the country, these unevenly acted but generally well-written shorts include the twisty tales of a two nerds on a very rocky date (which includes actual rocks), a pair of Labradors discussing the complex etiquette of doggie mating, and a lawyer who brings his fiancée to a shrink to learn small talk, and gets a lesson in true love himself. Directed by Delia Bisconer, Charles Jaeger, and Tony Kelly, the plays run the gamut from gentle and humorous to flat-out over-the-top scandalous wackiness. Think of it as the stage equivalent of those tiny candy conversation hearts—though with a bit more bite beneath all the sugary sweetness.
‘From Russia With Love’ runs Thursday–Sunday through Feb. 14 in The Studio at 6th Street Playhouse. www.6thstreetplayhouse.com.
‘In Love With the 8×10’ runs Thursday–Sunday through February 13 at The Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, www.luckypennynapa.com