F2T’s “Love, Chekhov, and the Magic Trunk”- A Dynamic New York Debut

Dylan Arredondo and Samantha Clark in F2T's production Love, Chekhov and the Magic Trunk by producer Mantalena Papadatou and co-producer/director Fotis Batzas. Photo by Nan P. Sukaram

NEW YORK– F2T’s, a dynamic new theatre company, made its debut in Manhattan on September 30 through October 2 with sold-out, standing-room-only performances for the world premiere of Love, Chekhov, and the Magic Trunk. The original adaptation of three comedic one-act plays by Anton Chekhov’s was presented off-Broadway for three consecutive nights.

“We are overwhelmed by the strong and enthusiastic reception,” said Mantalena Papadatou, the co-founder and producer of the emerging company. “Such a response is extremely rare in such a competitive landscape and it augurs well for our future plans which we’ve already set in motion.”

“Though we anticipated great interest, this surpassed our expectations. My only regret is that we didn’t book the space for multiple weekends,” said Fotis Batzas, the co-founder and director/playwright of the production.

Ingrid Raison and Patrick Madden in F2T's production Love, Chekhov and the Magic Trunk by producer Mantalena Papadatou and co-producer/director Fotis Batzas. Photo by Nan P. Sukaram
Ingrid Raison and Patrick Madden in F2T’s production Love, Chekhov and the Magic Trunk by producer Mantalena Papadatou and co-producer/director Fotis Batzas. Photo by Nan P. Sukaram

Building upon Chekhov’s The Bear, The Proposal, and The Wedding, the company added a key component to the plays, an omniscient onstage narrator. The presence of the sly narrative voice who “winks” at the audience (figuratively and literally) bound the trio of farces together, unifying the inherent zaniness of Chekhov’s humor.

Anton Chekhov in 1889. Photo: Public domain
Anton Chekhov in 1889. Photo: Public domain

It also created an immediate connection with the audience from the moment the lights went on, transporting contemporary New York City viewers into the early 20th century Russian world, a world where electricity is a novelty vying with flame, without skipping a beat. And, as the narrator drew all into the play’s arena, it helped the universality and timelessness of the themes in the one-acts to resonate all the more. A “Magic Trunk” facilitated the seemingly boundless capacity of theatre to transform people and places through simple objects. Scarves, a mask, a pair of bright orange water pistols used to hilarious comic advantage in a scene about a duel, were drawn from the depths of the trunk. It also afforded a place where actors were able to vanish and then re-emerge in unexpected guises.

Papadatou explained that the creative team decided unanimously on Chekhov for the inaugural production. “Chekhov deals with the perennial struggle between the sexes and the underlying need to be loved which is shared by all. While he is best known for his dramas – all of which contain richly comic elements – we were all eager to showcase his amazing comedies. Adding our own special twists made all work out fabulously!” she said.

The super high-energy actors each played multiple roles throughout the show. They were perfectly chosen as the parts demanded precise timing, highly physical slapstick comedy, and an ability to play larger-than-life emotions with conviction and commitment and to switch from one sentiment to another –for example, extreme mourning to unbridled lust – in an instant.

The principals are intent on establishing a core ensemble of performers that they hope will include several of the actors from the premiere show.

“The process in New York is fast and faster. Rehearsal time is short. A production can progress much more smoothly if you have a talented core you can rely on to reach the level required with great speed,” says Batzas. He notes too that there must be flexibility and fluidity in building a team and that F2T’s will welcome talented newcomers as needed.

A distinguishing characteristic of the company that will remain is its international and diverse composition.

“We come from all over the map,” says Papadatou, “Italy, France, Greece, and of course from throughout the U.S. And we’ve all studied at conservatories worldwide – particularly in London and in New York. Several of us are graduates of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.”

F2T’s mission statement notes this commitment, “a desire to create work that brings together actors of all races, ethnicities, sexualities and sizes” because “it is the intangible qualities of being human, our emotions and feelings, that are most important, not the physical bodies we live in.”

Papadatou and Batzas are already focused on the next project. While the company’s name, F2T’s (Film, Theatre and Television) indicates that it will expand into other media, for the immediate future the focus will remain on the stage.

“The first show revealed the magic inherent in theatre. We knew it, the actors conveyed it, and the audience welcomed it. For the moment, we need to dig deeper into that groove and see what will develop,” said Batzas.