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Film / Speed for Thespians

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The actor's in the middle

Speed for Thespians is a 2000 short film (28 minutes) directed by Kalman Apple.

It is an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's one-act play The Bear. Elena is a Russian noblewoman who is making a great show of being in mourning for her husband, dead seven months. She receives a visitor, one Grigory. Grigory, it seems, wants payment for 1200 rubles's worth of oats that Elena's husband received from him.

Elena agrees to pay him but says that she doesn't have access to cash and that Grigory will have to wait until her manager returns to the estate in two days. Grigory says that isn't good enough, that he has to pay interest on a mortgage tomorrow and must have the money immediately. An angry confrontation ensues.

All of this takes place on a New York City bus. Really! It turns out that a small troupe of actors is performing Chekhov's play on a New York public transit bus. Or rather, a series of buses, as they keep getting thrown off. Eventually, after finding a more indulgent bus driver, the actors perform The Bear before a series of sometimes bemused, sometimes irritated, sometimes entertained New York commuters.


  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Grigory says "Is it my fault if I like you?", after Elena's return, carrying two guns and exclaiming how she can't wait to shoot him, leads him to propose marriage.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: In Chekhov's play, Grigory and Elena start showing signs of obvious sexual attraction while they're yelling at each other.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: The stage instructions for the play call for "A prolonged kiss" at the end and sure enough "Elena" and "Grigory" kiss passionately, right before Elena dismisses her servant and the play ends.
  • Call-Back: "Grigory", who is really hamming it up, shouts out "What the HELL do I care for your manager?" This gets the actors kicked off the bus. Later, after delivering that same line, Grigory cringes and looks back at the bus driver, but this bus driver is more indulgent and allows the performance to continue. This is the only time in the movie that any of the actors playing parts in The Bear comes out of character.
  • Contrived Coincidence: "Elena" calls for a servant named Dasha. A quick cut to the bus driver and his name tag reveals that his name is Dasha.
  • Hands-On Approach: The Belligerent Sexual Tension is kicked up a notch when the actors stage the scene where "Grigory" teaches "Elena" how to use a pistol. He drapes himself over her from behind and starts whispering into her ear as he does it, with the double entendre of her telling him to "raise the cock" (of the gun) making it even more obvious.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: Chekhov's play, a satire, is made further ironic and satirical by being presented by some very hammy actors on a New York bus in front of passengers who are sometimes confused and sometimes engaged. In one scene where "Elena" is complaining about how her husband flirted with other women right in front of her face, a woman who is totally engrossed in the play turns and punches the man next to her (husband? boyfriend?) in the arm.
  • Love at First Punch: In the play, Grigory, who has been hostile to Elena throughout, starts getting turned on when she accepts his challenge to a duel and comes back with a couple of pistols. (Amusingly, while Chehkov's text describes them as "Smith & Wesson revolvers", the actors have gotten a couple of single-shot flintlock pistols as props.)
  • Old Retainer: In the play, Elena's elderly servant Luka, who begs her to stop mourning and go out and meet people.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The entire first scene is played out with Elena and Luka sitting on a wooden bench, the camera in tight on the two of them as she insists that she will wear black and remain in mourning forever, while Luka urges her to stop mourning and go out and live life again. Then there's the "ding" of a requested bus stop, and the camera moves back to show that "Elena" and "Luka" are actors, sitting on the back seat of a bus, performing a play.
  • Shout-Out: The title of the film is a shout-out to Speed, a thriller set on a public transport bus.
  • Show Within a Show: Anton Chekhov's The Bear, performed on New York City buses, as commuters goggle at a group of actors hamming it up. Interestingly, the show within the show actually is the show, as the actors never come out of character except for a couple of fleeting moments, Chekhov's short play is presented almost in its entirety, and the buses and passengers really only constitute an amusing background.
  • The Stinger: One last scene after the credits have started to roll shows two old ladies scrambling to get on a bus, where one of them asks "Is this the bus with the off-Broadway play?"
  • Street Performer: Taken to the extreme, as some very dedicated actors perform The Bear on a bus.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: A histrionic Grigory says "I'm shaking, I'm so angry!"
  • Time-Passes Montage: The acting troupe gets thrown off of several buses, as shown in a montage where they repeat a scene multiple times in front of different audiences, followed by shots of the actors at a bus stop waiting for another bus.
  • Title Drop: For the In-Universe play, as Elena tells Grigory, "You're a peasant! A lout! A bear! A brute!"
  • Widow's Weeds: In the play, Elena insists that she will wear black forever. Really she's just a drama queen, as Grigory points out when he notes that she may be dressing in widow's weeds and claiming to be in eternal mourning, but she still has makeup on her face.
  • World of Ham: All three actors are very hammy, the one playing Grigory most of all. The setting of the film, with actors giving very stage-bound big performances on a cramped public bus, just makes the ham even sillier.