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THE SNEEZE, Stone Circle Theatre Ensemble, at Cafe Voltaire. Who would have believed it? Chekhov can be funny--if his translator knows how to be funny. Neil Simon demonstrated this in 1973 with The Good Doctor, and 15 years later Michael Frayn did it again with The Sneeze, a collection of Chekhov's short plays that looks beyond the parochialism of 19th-century Russian society to reveal the universal truths of Chekhov's observations on the ironies of an imperfect world.

Frayn is not the only one responsible for the success of this Stone Circle Theatre Ensemble production, however (though his adaptation of the title piece into a silent comedy was a stroke of genius). Because director Jennifer Placke and her cast firmly ground their humor in the plays' all-too-human characters, the action produces the comedy, rather than the humor being confined to a few random gags. Even that overdone farce "The Bear" is given new life through the casting of two treble-voiced youngsters as the stubborn quarrelers, a choice that renders the childish arguments and volatile emotions of the widow and her late husband's creditor charming rather than merely silly. Add some commedia-style scenic motifs, a few quick-stepping balalaika tsiganes, and plenty of energy tempered by intelligence, and the result is a breezy, original production that just might redeem Gloomy Anton, proving him a funnyman in his own right.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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