Neva by Guillermo Calderon at Theatre Inconnu. A review.

Neva by Guillermo Calderon at Theatre Inconnu. A review.

Three actors. One stage. Minimal set décor. Costumes, lighting and classical music.  Neva by Guillermon Calderon (at Theatre Inconnu February 13-March 3 2018) as imagined by director Clayton Jevne and his ensemble, is theatre reduced to its essential elements; theatre relying solely on the director’s interpretation and the cast’s ability to carry it through ninety minutes of in-depth conversations and posturing—about, mainly, the theatre.

Neva is a meta-theatrical showcase for actors, a window into the creative psyche and a terrible indictment—combined into a highly intellectual play that entertains, challenges and questions.

Melissa Blank (Olga), Rosemary Jeffery (Masha) and Nicholas Guerreiro (Aleko). Photo provided.

Neva speaks to the inherent avoidant nature of people—our human propensity for ignoring bad news in favour of self.  In Calderon’s script, Olga (Melissa Blank), the recent widow of Chekov and an acclaimed actress, is holding forth to one of her acolytes, the young Aleko (Nicholas Guerreiro).  Despite the fact other members of the company are late for rehearsal (outside the 1905 St Petersburgh massacre of Bloody Sunday is taking place), Olga is unconcerned for their welfare.  As Olga, Blank is imperious and haughty, self-centred and playful, grief-stricken and remorseful, cycling from high to low, alternately filled with doubt and sure of her position; her expressive face and clear command of the language draw the audience easily into her world and make them care about her situation.

Guerreiro as Aleko is a smooth character—first convincing as a poor peasant who found salvation as an actor, before revealing himself to be a rich aristocrat. Wide-eyed and gesticulating he complies with Olga’s orders to re-create Chekov’s final moments in an effort to unblock the emotions she is stifling.

When Masha (Rosemary Jeffery) enters, the dynamic shifts—gossipy interludes and criticism, of one another and members of the cast, even theatre attendants, follow in swift succession.  No one is spared from scathing observations. At first Masha is obedient, in awe of Olga and her reputation. Over the course of the play her rancour builds until she can no longer keep it in, exploding in a final monologue that contains Calderon’s central thesis (or question).  Jeffery’s transition from meek and subservient underling, used to being bossed around, to truth-spewing prophetess of doom is inspiring and frightening.

Over the course of the play, particularly for theatre-goers steeped in Chekov’s work, there are humourous references and allusions.  A biographical note in the program provides context into Olga’s life—she continued to work on the stage in Russia, long after Bloody Sunday and the Revolution, and died in 1959.  One is left to wonder how she managed the tradition from cherished cultural icon during the time of the Czar, to life in the communist collective and what concessions she made.  This reflection (and knowledge) adds even more gravitas to Calderon’s questioning through Masha’s monologue.

Theatre need not always be comfortable, and as Calderon turns his gaze to the audience, Masha’s digs and assertions become even more personal.  Despite her certainty that theatre would soon be dead, here we are in 2018 considering the role of theatre in contemporary society. Is it a bourgeois conceit, or, a true mirror of the human condition, that simultaneously distracts and provokes?

Theatre Inconnu has never shied away from difficult questions. In Neva, audiences experience artifice and reality, artistry and social commentary, portrayed with great skill in the hands of a talented ensemble.  Director Clayton Jevne’s probing rendition is haunting. One hundred years after Bloody Sunday, the audience is left to question its responsibility to art and to the world.

Neva takes place on Bloody Sunday, 1905, the day when protesting workers were massacred by government forces on their way to the Winter Palace to deliver a message to the czar. In a rehearsal space in St. Petersburg self-dramatizing diva Olga, the recent widow of Anton Chekhov, bemoans her inability to act well any longer, paralyzed by the fear of disappointing others. Only two other actors have managed to show up due to the massacre: the slippery Aleko and the seemingly effacing Masha. They alternately engage in improvised impromptu scenes of heightened emotion, amusing themselves by blurring the distinction between the personal and the staged, finding the genuine in the counterfeit and vice versa, all the while critiquing each other’s artistic choices and moral character. Calderón, using biting humour, ironically questions the purpose and integrity of art in a world gone – and unfortunately, still going – mad.

“An extraordinary effort.” The Hollywood Reporter

Neva by Guillermo Calderon, translated by Andrea Thome, directed by Clayton Jevne
Theatre Inconnu, 1923 Fernwood Road at the Paul Phillips Hall
February 13-March 3, 2018
Tickets: Ticket prices: $14 regular, $10 seniors (60+) /students/unwaged
February 13 – Preview is $7
Tuesday February 20 is Pay-What-You-Wish admission

Cast: (alphabetically)

Melissa Blank Olga Knipper
Nicholas Guerreiro Aleko
Rosemary Jeffery Masha

Production Team

Clayton Jevne Director and Production Design
Morgan Gadd Stage Manager
Richard Patterson Crew
Robert Randall Poster/Program Graphics

Reservations and Ticket Sales:

Through TICKET ROCKET:  or   250-590-6291 (a $2.50 surcharge will be added).

Directly through THEATRE INCONNU: Phone (250) 360-0234 or reserve through Complimentary tickets, special needs seating, and subscribers: need to reserve directly through Theatre Inconnu.

Preview: Feb 13 @ 8pm
8pm shows:  Feb 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, Mar 1, 2, 3
2pm show:  Feb 17, 24, Mar 3

The show is about 90 minutes long, including one intermission.

For parking we suggest the side streets west of Fernwood Road as these do not have parking restriction signs.

We are wheelchair accessible.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ticket to attend the preview of Neva.

About @lacouvee

Community Builder. Catalyst. Speaker. Writer. Arts Advocate.

Passionate about bridging online and offline communities to effect positive change.

I truly believe that one person can make a difference and that we all have our own lives to live, creatively, while respecting the unique nature of others.


  1. […] Adrian Chamberlain-Times Colonist: “invigorating, provocative and absolutely hilarious” Janis Lavouvee-I Have My Own Life to Live: “Neva is a meta-theatrical showcase for actors, a window into the creative psyche and a terrible indictment—combined into a highly intellectual play that entertains, challenges and questions.” […]

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