"The Belkin Tales": A Review

On Feb. 23, I had the pleasure of attending LAB! Theatre's production of “The Belkin Tales." Stuart Wilson used inspiration from the short stories of Alexander Pushkin to weave together an overlying narrative, complete with a message about telling someone’s story after they have died. On top of Wilson’s brilliant writing, the play was wonderfully directed by Bea Manaligod. Since LAB! Theatre is dedicated to providing free theater to UNC students, the production was very minimalist. This is due to the inability to afford more sophisticated stage technology, resources for sets or elaborate costumes. The actors wore their own clothes, though they tried to wear clothes that somewhat resembled what would have been worn in early twentieth century Russia. They drank out of imaginary cups and rode invisible horses. And, at one point, an actress is portrayed as sleeping on a line of chairs in place of a bed. However, a minimalist performance does not equate to minimal enjoyment.

The overlying narrative of the play follows a reporter who is tasked with writing an obituary for a recently deceased Russian author named Belkin, but the author is not well known, neither among the public nor among his family members. However, as the reporter is interviewing people who may have known the author, he discovers that Belkin left three short stories to three different people shortly before his death. Each of Belkin’s stories tells the reporter something different about Belkin’s character, aiding him in writing the obituary. Of the three tales, the first two staged are romances. These romances are surreal in a way that they almost seem like fairytales, despite the absolute lack of magic throughout the stories. The first two stories are written with such wit and humor that they are exquisite to see performed. The actors played their characters keenly, walking a fine line between cheesy and witty in order to evoke the best reaction from the audience. However, the third short story performed created a bit of a tonal shift. The third and final tale was a revenge story, eradicating most of the comedy that was present throughout the rest of the play. Although this story takes a darker turn, it is still very enjoyable, and it portrays themes regarding honor and conscience. This change in tone is important as the reporter writes Belkin’s obituary, as it shows a side of the author that otherwise may not have been recognized.

“The Belkin Tales” was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I went into the play with absolutely no idea of its plot, themes or genre. All I knew was that the play was based on Russian short stories. However, I am glad that I gambled on attending this play, as I was more than pleasantly surprised. “The Belkin Tales” was performed in a very small theatre, and seating consisted of rows of foldable chairs, but I believe this small environment made the play feel more real. By being surrounded by the story, it almost felt like I was included in the play. The actors would ride their imaginary horses around us, have duels in the main aisle and even shake our hands as if thanking us for attending their party. In that small environment, laughter reverberated off the walls, making the comedy that much more hilarious because everyone was laughing together. The cheesy moments seemed less cheesy when gratified by chuckles. The tension between grumpy neighbors was eased by giggles. The turmoil of young love was thwarted by chortles. Everyone in the theatre watched the play as a community, and, after all, isn’t that what community theatre is all about?

Like what you see? The images included in this article were taken by Thomas Davids at “The Belkin Tales” photo shoot. If you’d like some photos from “The Belkin Tales,” or if you’d like a photo shoot of your own, contact [email protected] for photos and video.