Shrivel up and die … of laughter

D. Terry Petrie and Isaac Walters, the chair of and a lecturer for the theatrical arts department respectively, jump-started UVU’s theater season from summer by directing the best production we have ever seen on campus.

Flies in the Snuffbox, collected 1880’s Russian comedy sketches by Anton Chekhov, is more than a successful production — it is unadulterated, enlightened entertainment.

The play is technically four short comedies, the first of which has been segmented to form a more distinct transition between the stories.

The first sketch, On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, was brilliantly handled. The piece was broken into four segments, and was integrated between the other sketches in a way that creatively unified them. Nathaniel Drew was the sole performer in this particular sketch, and he did a fantastic job. His character, who spoke directly to the house, was the perfect bridge between actors and audience. His performance is engaging, relatable, invigorating, and hilarious. In the hands of a lesser actor, this rambling bit of script would simply be stale and flat, but he made it effervescent.

The beginning of The Bear, skit two in the play, provides the low point in the show. However, as the plot heightens, and the audience becomes better acquainted with the leading characters, any disappointment is more than made up for. Here is where the theme of pseudo-psychological terror in long-term relationships really manifests.

And it evolves into a delightful character-based comedy that is more entertaining than any movie in theaters right now. The light design as well is particularly well-done in this piece.

The leading actors in The Bear, Jeremy J. Minagro and Penny Pendleton, ease you in to a full-on yelling match, which warms the audience up nicely for the altercations in the following sketches. It’s an example of an extensively incorporated aspect of the show — to stretch themes and plot devices across all of the short stories.

Scott M. Stringham’s high-strung performance in the third sketch, The Proposal, forces the audience to feel his anxiety. Imagine Charlie Brown without therapy at 35 years old, trying to ask a friend of the family to marry him. Add a dash of Munchausen syndrome and you’re close to Stringham’s character. Elize Newton is the other standout performance of this piece. She plays the obstinate, argumentative counterpart to Stringham, adding her own brand of hilarity to the action. Julie Suazo plays the mother, and Suazo ably balances the character’s tension and mediation in the story.

The plot of The Proposal is less neatly tied off than in The Bear, which parallels the theme of devolution in long-term relationships nicely. The final sketch, The Jubilee, descends into pure chaos by the end.

This sketch, about employees of a bank on the night of a company party, practically erupts on the stage. The women show the worst characteristics they are blamed for earlier in the script, the men become children or monsters, and every relationship between characters is destroyed. But it is still a delight to watch.

Amos Omer plays a smug, self-appreciating boss whose egocentricity is exceeded only by his overly talkative wife, played by Britni Gibbs. His antics will seem all too familiar to students working through school by relating with middle management; he is akin to Michael Scott from The Office, but with actual concern for his career. Jana Grass is fantastic as a dynamic character whose obstinate and thunderous nature is matched only by Leviticus Brown as an elderly, miserable volcano who leads the tone of the entire sketch with the sense of a slowly approaching collision.

Performers also include Samuel Davis, Natalie Devine, and Jacob Porter.

The comedy is not merely effective — it’s exhausting, and that’s because the actors perform so provocatively that each line becomes an engaging, relatable experience for the audience. Flies in the Snuffbox is executed well because at the heart of the production, there is a message inherent to the actors, directors, stories, and Chekhov: that human beings are weak, desperate, stubborn creatures who overexaggerate and complain often. And for some reason, that’s uproarious to witness.

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