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Gerald Carpenter: Westmont and Blondell Provoke ‘33 Swoons’

The college's new production of three Chekov one-acts opens Friday

In 1935, a few short years before his fatal encounter with Joseph Stalin’s goons, the great Russian theatrical director Vsevolod Meyerhold made up a show out of three Anton Chekhov one-acts (The Proposal, The Bear and The Anniversary), counted the number of times the characters swooned or fainted, and called the thing 33 Swoons. Now, the Westmont College Theatre Arts program is offering a new production of 33 Swoons in Porter Theater on the Westmont campus this Friday and Saturday and March 3-5.

The play will star the cream of Westmont’s student actors, featuring sets by Darcy Scanlin, costumes by Miller James, lighting by Robert Hamel, and with original music by Diana Small and Elise Witek.

At the helm is one of the most creative directors now at work in West Coast theater, not to mention the rest of the world: John Blondell, Westmont theater arts professor and artistic director of Lit Moon Theatre Company.

With their lifelong quest for new and vital approaches to staging, their rejection of academicism and received wisdom, their irreverent, impish approach to the most venerable dramatic classics, Meyerbold and Blondell are clearly kindred spirits, so it is not surprising to find Blondell confessing, “I have been an admirer of Meyerhold for my entire directing career. His work has been a constant source of inspiration in the type and kinds of work I do, so when I learned that he had staged these three great farces as part of a Chekhov birthday celebration, I was immediately drawn to the idea of presenting them here at Westmont.”

If you know only Chekov’s quartet of masterpieces — Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and The Seagull — you may be somewhat taken aback by the broad and boisterous humor of the three plays that make up 33 Swoons. They were written quite early in his career.

“The plays are wildly funny, have great opportunities for our actors, and frame Chekhov in a manner not normally associated with the reputation of the Russian playwright,” Blondell said. “They are part of a rich popular theater tradition called vaudeville, which was first developed in France, then adopted and adapted in a variety of countries, including the United States and Russia.”

33 Swoons will play at 8 p.m. every day of the run, with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 5. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults, and can be purchased at the door or by calling 805.565.7140.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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