Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Bear and Afterplay
Irish Heritage Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's recent reviews of Head Over Heels and Unfinished Women Cry in No Man's Land While a Bird Dies in a Gilded Cage

Rob Hargraves and Kirsten Quinn
Photo by Trina Iarosis @kicaptures
The Irish Heritage Theatre is presenting Brian Friel's The Bear and Afterplay–two short works based on the writing of Anton Chekhov–at the Plays & Players Theatre in Philadelphia. Peggy Mecham directs both of these character driven one-acts. The Bear is entertaining but ultimately falls short due to a lack of connection between the characters. Afterplay is more successful with its touching portrayal of two lonely people who share a brief but beautiful moment of authentic attachment.

Friel adapted The Bear from one of Chekhov's short plays. A long-grieving widow named Popova is visited by a local farmer named Smirnov, who demands payment for a debt owed by Popova's late husband. The two characters engage in a battle of wills, which eventually leads to an unexpected conclusion. The Bear is a sort of romantic comedy that explores themes of grief and pride.

In Afterplay, Friel imagines what would happen if two of Chekhov's most tragic characters–Sonya from Uncle Vanya and Andrey from Three Sisters–met in a Moscow cafe twenty years after their respective plays ended. Both characters have experienced profound disappointment and unfulfilled dreams. Together they share a revealing conversation and an authentic if fleeting connection.

Zaferes's set for The Bear has an effective minimalist vibe, but the space ultimately feels too cramped for the actors. With endless bravado and over the top energy, Brian McManus is every bit the brutish bear of the play's title. He is very funny, but because he never really connects with Barbaraluz Orlanda as Popova, some of the jokes just don't land right. For her part, Orlanda is delightful as the over-dramatic and self-defeatingly vindictive Popova. It is the lack of authentic feeling between the pair that keeps The Bear from being completely successful.

In Afterplay, Kirsten Quinn gives a gorgeously nuanced performance as quietly stoic Sonya. Rob Hargraves has a charming exuberance as well-meaning but ultimately misguided Andrey. Quinn and Hargraves have a captivating chemistry that evolves over their brief but meaningful time together. Jack Zaferes's minimalist set design is perfectly evocative for their bittersweet scene.

The Irish Heritage Theater's production of The Bear and Afterplay may not be perfect, but it is still a heartfelt and thought provoking play. Afterplay in particular offers insight into the nature of human connection that is fascinating to experience.

Irish Heritage Theatre's The Bear and Afterplay runs through March 19, 2023, at Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit

Barbaraluz Orlanda: Popova
Kirsten Quinn: Sonya
John Cannon: Luka
Brian McManus: Smirnov
Rob Hargraves: Andrey

Peggy Mecham: Director
Jack Zaferes: Set Designer