Why would Knox students spend their Sunday afternoons listening to people argue about livestock grazing rights in Imperial Russia?
Chances are good that it would be because they were in the Studio Theatre watching a performance of Anton Chekhov’s “The Marriage Proposal,” a short, one-act play by Russia’s most famous playwright, directed by freshman Emily Antoff.
The plot centers on a somewhat neurotic and temperamental farmer, Ivan Lomov (played by sophomore Jon Hewelt) and his attempts to work up the courage to ask his neighbor Stepan Chubukov (junior Rose Dolezal) for Stepan’s daughter Natalia’s (freshman Kathleen Gullion) hand in marriage.
Ivan, too shy to directly propose to Natalia, attempts to engage in small talk to mitigate the awkwardness, only to end up landing in a heated argument about livestock pastures with his would-be fiancé and her father.
After he angrily leaves, Stepan tells his daughter that Ivan had come for her hand, at which point she begs her father to bring him back. Ivan returns, but another attempt at small talk goes awry and they get equally heated over the paternity and jaw lines of two hunting dogs.
The two do end up getting engaged, though not, of course, without another set of complications.
As a satire of courtship the play did not work particularly well, as modern romance bears little resemblance to the way in which Russian farmers in the 19th century did it.
But awkwardness around the opposite sex will afflict humanity for eternity, and if the play was watched on that level there are still many ways that modern audiences can relate to the saga of Ivan and Natalia.
The fact that the antics of alcohol-swigging old women are always funny also proved helpful to the performance. Antoff’s decision to cast a female in the role of Stepan Chubukov also created an interesting and entertaining dynamic.
Dolezal’s role as Stepan was what stole the show, although Hewelt and Gullion both performed admirably as well. Gullion’s temper tantrums stood out as particularly entertaining.
Antoff was very pleased with how the show turned out, saying “it surpassed all of my expectations.”
The students in the audience seemed pleased with the quality of the performance. Junior John Budding commented that it was “very well done,” while freshman Allie Fry said it was “really funny and entertaining.”
Freshman Anushree Kedia (Stage Manager) and freshman Oakton Reynolds (Light Board) also contributed to the play.