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Blood, Love and Rhetoric (BLR), an English-language theater company based in Prague, is putting on a production for the fourth time this January with the hearty title “Chekhov – From Russia With Love, Blood and Rhetoric.” The show covers Russian history from the times of intelligentsia in cake-dresses to the wife-beaters and Adidas sweatpants of the ferocious nineties. The performance takes place at Divadlo Inspirace at Malá Strana in Prague, which has a small, cozy auditorium and a no-less-cozy bar with a medieval touch.
The show consists of five one-act plays: “Mustard,” “Swansong,” “Tobacco,” “Inspector-General” and “Proposal.” Not only does BLR provide the spectators with an introduction to Chekhov’s peculiar rhetoric, but the style of the theater group itself shows a lot. BLR enriches Chekhov with practical jokes, killer Russian and French accents, a red couch, epaulets and lots of vodka.
With the first play, “Mustard,” we plunge into the times of eccentric characters wearing plateresque outfits. One may or may not like the over-expressiveness on the part of the noble russian Madame (Beathe Linde) and her no less noble fellow Frenchman with the fidgety eyebrows (Mikey Blount). Yet, the servant’s (Uliana Elina) song will surely give you goosebumps.
“Swansong” balances between being an existential tragedy and a philosophizing comedy of an old alcoholic who returns to the bottle and forgets what he is celebrating. Curt Mattew’s merely setting his foot on the scaffolding sends the audience into fits of laughter. That is why, despite the monologue being lengthy and uneventful, “Swansong” succeeds at being entertaining. There is a curious dichotomy between the comedian’s (Mattew) artistry and the prompter-character (Ronald Prokes) being a stranger to art, which magnifies the conflict between the generations.
The apogee of the show is Logan Hiller’s monologue in “Tobacco.” Stalin’s portrait, the formidable chorus and the suitcase with something green and radioactive altogether create an immaculate interpretation of Chekhov in a character of its own. “Tobacco” set the bar really high for the rest of the show, which might have been a mistake, seeing that the two plays following the intermission do not quite reach “Tobacco”‘s epic nature.
The fourth play, “Inspector-General,” flies by: it is short, runs smooth and is a good laugh. It is not particularly memorable compared to the rest of the show.
“Proposal,” on the other hand, the fifth and last part of the show, is quite a surprise. “Proposal” combines lowbrow criminals with the delicate matters of Chekhov’s play, and regardless of the seemingly dichotomy, the two blend together into a perfect combination. The last part might appear a bit lengthy, but it is worth the story. You would not be able to imagine better characters than the trio consisting of Aneta Kölblová, John Poston and Ronald Prokes. This is the point in the performance when the audience indeed gets blood, love and lots of rhetorics all at once.
Due credit must be given to Jim Hight, who’s sudden appearances in almost every scene gave each play a touch of BLR’s distinctive black humor that has made them into something more than just another Chekhov revival.
Having said that, if you still have not made up your mind about whether to go see BLR or not, there is one argument that is better than all the prattling on about dichotomies and conflicts of generations: Blood Love and Rhetoric gets the audience rolling in the aisles.