Anatoly Smelyansky (AS): "Leading twentieth-century directors have linked Chekhov's vaudevilles with the whole of his art. Meyerhold was the first to do this in a 1933 production called Thirty-Three Swoons, which combined the leitmotifs from many of the vaudevilles. He also split the male and female characters into two separate parties, turning the gender struggle into a choral Greek conflict. More recently, Pyotr Fomenko directed a gloomy, mystical production of The Wedding that enlarged the scope of the vaudeville by turning it into a play about human nature. The vaudevilles by themselves have historical significance. But, for me, the most interesting thing in them is Chekhov himself. Not the characters, but the writer who wrote them. The A.R.T. production, which combines the vaudevilles with scenes from Chekhov's own life and death, shows this positive tendency to make connections."
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Time is a "space" subject for Existentialists. Chekhov didn't read Kierkeggard, but knew about Nietzsche. God died, Good Doctor knew it before Zharatustra.
Postmodern Time (POMO space -- next)
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"One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake." Chekhov
SeasonsAs much as he utilizes the specific, Chekhov also calls on the universal - the cyclical changes of the seasons. Through each play there is a progression of season corresponding to the action. Looking at Three Sisters for example, we find a perfect correspondence. The play opens with hope and some happiness - it is May 5. In the second act all is bleak and cold, the chill of their atrophied lives is enshrouding the characters - it is mid-January. And when the play ends, with the sisters turning their worn-out hope toward a cheerless winter of life, it is autumn and the birds of passage are already flying south.
The terminal note of all four major plays is similar. And Chekhov sounds each of these notes in the melancholy of autumn. Konstantine shoots himself on a night when they are playing cards to pass the long autumn evening. Astroff will not return to Vanya's house until the snow of the coming winter has gone; Lyuboff and her family finally leave their estate on an October afternoon.
[ Following Nietzsche, please, do the "slow reading" -- line-by-line. ]Uncle Vanya, Stage Directions -- "A country house on a terrace. In front of it a garden. In an avenue of trees, under an old poplar, stands a table set for tea, with a samovar, etc. Some benches and chairs stand near the table. On one of them is lying a guitar. A hammock is swung near the table. It is three o'clock in the afternoon of a cloudy day."Analysis of the stage directions: The Cherry Orchard.
ACT ONE. A room which is still called the nursery. One of the doors leads into ANYA'S room. It is close on sunrise. It is May. The cherry-trees are in flower but it is chilly in the garden. There is an early frost. The windows of the room are shut. DUNYASHA comes in with a candle, and LOPAKHIN with a book in his hand.
Next (CO, act 1) -- Two carriages are heard driving up to the house. LOPAKHIN and DUNYASHA quickly go out. The stage is empty. A noise begins in the next room. FIERS, leaning on a stick, walks quickly across the stage; he has just been to meet LUBOV ANDREYEVNA. He wears an old-fashioned livery and a tall hat. He is saying something to himself, but not a word of it can be made out. The noise behind the stage gets louder and louder. A voice is heard: "Let's go in there." Enter LUBOV ANDREYEVNA, ANYA, and CHARLOTTA IVANOVNA with a little dog on a chain, and all dressed in travelling clothes, VARYA in a long coat and with a kerchief on her head. GAEV, SIMEONOV-PISCHIN, LOPAKHIN, DUNYASHA with a parcel and an umbrella, and a servant with luggage --all cross the room.
Time Of DayIn much the same way Chekhov uses the hours of the day. Looking again at The Three Sisters, we go full cycle through the day. The first-act party takes place on a bright May day at noon. As darkness comes into their lives, in the second act, it is 8:00 P. M. of a winter's night. As their lives erupt during the fire, it is that dreadful hour, three in the morning. And at last, as the officers leave, it is again twelve noon - and how strongly we feel the difference between the opening and final noons.
The hour of the day is very much a part of the atmosphere of each act. Think, for instance, of the middle-of-the-night sleeplessness in Act II of Vanya. Everyone is edgy, tired, worn-out-how well the hour fits the action. Think of the blazing midday sun reflecting off the lake in The Seagull's second act. The noontime heat perfectly coincides with the boredom, lethargy, and idleness. Chekhov was very specific about the time of day, and he places constant reminders throughout the action of the hour and all the atmospheric implications of that hour. In the first act of The Cherry Orchard we hear countless times that the night is almost over. The opening two lines set the hour, and the exhausted family reminds each other endlessly how very late it is.
[quotations from 3 Sisters, my traslation/adaptation 1999.]
Time PassingAs precise as he is about the time of day, Chekhov is vague, almost obscure, about the amount of time between days, months, and years. We are given occasional signposts of the passage of time (the age and number of Natasha's children, the reference to seasons, mention of a trip just completed). But Chekhov's plays are, for the most part, suspended in time. These people, tucked away in the provinces, spend each day exactly like the one past and the one to come. This is the very horror of their lives. In Uncle Vanya, for instance, we are confused whether the second-act night time vigil occurs on the same day as the play opened or on a night a few weeks later. In the first act we hear Elena, Sonia, Serebriakoff, and Telegin chatting as they return from a walk (and a few moments later Elena and Sonia go into the house together). And yet, in the second act, Elena complains that Sonia is angry at her and "hasn't spoken to me for two weeks now." So, perhaps, at least two weeks have passed between the acts. In the first act Elena says she has not "really talked to" Astroff even once, and she has only seen him three times in her life. And yet, in the second act she knows all about his "bravery," his "genius," the details of his life, what he believes in. So perhaps she has had much more than two weeks to get to know the doctor. But to contradict this estimate of elapsed time is the continuity of the action itself. Astroff has come on the day the play opens to minister to Serebriakoff's ills. But now that Astroff has traveled all that distance, Serebriakoff seems quite well, he seems to be over his pains of the night before. He will not be examined. But Astroff announces his intention to spend the night anyway. The situation is exactly the same in the second act. Serebriakoff's night pains have returned and he is berated for turning away the doctor that day.
The problem is, then, is this the same attack of rheumatism, or has the doctor been summoned several times to tend to the hypochondriac who will not be treated? As long as we sense that these attacks and the conversations surrounding them have been going on interminably, it does not matter exactly which day it is. In fact, by obscuring the specifics, Chekhov contributes to the atmosphere of endless and utter tedium.
Arrivals And DeparturesThe stage is set as for Act I. There are no curtains on the windows, no pictures; only a few pieces of furniture are left; they are piled up in a corner as if for sale. The emptiness is felt. By the door that leads out of the house and at the back of the stage, portmanteaux and travelling paraphernalia are piled up. The door on the left is open; the voices of VARYA and ANYA can be heard through it. LOPAKHIN stands and waits. YASHA holds a tray with little tumblers of champagne. Outside, EPIKHODOV is tying up a box. Voices are heard behind the stage. The peasants have come to say good-bye. The voice of GAEV is heard: "Thank you, brothers, thank you." [CO, act IV]
In a world hemmed in by routine and boredom, arrivals and departures provide a great deal of excitement. In the four major plays the structure hangs on arrivals and departures. In Three Sisters, the arrival of Natasha starts the action, the departure of the regiment ends it. In The Seagull, the arrival of Arkadina and her lover starts the action, their departure temporarily ends it, their return renews it (as well as Nina's return). In Vanya, the arrival of the Serebriakoffs starts off Vanya's "discovery"; the departure of the Serebriakoffs restores the old order - with the poignancy of new, hopeless wisdom. The Cherry Orchard bustles at the outset with Ranevskaya's arrival and ends with a thud at her departure. Major comings and goings provide a perfect dramatic means for bringing all the characters together, for catching up with news (which provides the audience with exposition) and for revealing how various people feel about those coming and going. Chekhov was a master at exploiting every possibility of this dramatic device.
EndingsDo the Analysis (Uncle Vanya):SONIA. What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile--and--we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. [SONIA kneels down before her uncle and lays her head on his hands. She speaks in a weary voice] We shall rest. [TELEGIN plays softly on the guitar] We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [She wipes away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what happiness was, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. [She embraces him] We shall rest. [The WATCHMAN'S rattle is heard in the garden; TELEGIN plays softly; MME. VOITSKAYA writes something on the margin of her pamphlet; MARINA knits her stocking] We shall rest.
The curtain slowly falls.
Chekhov's MessageAs a dramatist, and from all reports as a man, Chekhov had no final solution to the problems of life. Mistaken critics sometimes insist that his plays bear the message: "men must work to be happy." But look at the characters in his play who put forth that message: the drunken, boorish steward Borkin in Ivanov; the overworked, burnt-out Astroff and the contemptible professor in Vanya; the silly, ineffectual Baron in Three Sisters; and the fatuous perpetual student in The Cherry Orchard. This hardly sounds like a cast of characters a playwright would conceive to represent his own serious solutions.
Quite simply, Chekhov did not have a message. He was showing life as he saw it during the social and philosophical milieu of his day. His characters are carefully composed amalgams of the gentry and provincials of his time. Each one rings perfectly true as a character. Inherent in many of the ironic satiric characterizations is an implied criticism of certain human and class weaknesses. But it is not a specific human or a specific class. Chekhov's detached and observant eye looked with gentle amusement and genuine sympathy on the fault-riddled characters he created. He did not judge them. He did not offer suggestions on how to improve them. This is why Chekhov's major plays end neither happily nor wholly tragically. He did not presume to have the answers to the questions he posed.[ Is Chekhov's irony postmodern? "Blank parody." ]
New key terms and definitions
Metaphor and Theme Analysis
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Chekhov: Realism and Naturalism (extreme "realism'?). Chekhov and Absurdism. Chekhov and the postmodern perception (Philosophers from THR Theory, 413).
[ use "line-by-line" analysis, introduce the analysis of each sentence, select monologue for presentation in class, sample: ]
ASTROFF. I have my own desk there in Ivan's room. When I am absolutely too exhausted to go on I drop everything and rush over here to forget myself in this work for an hour or two. Ivan and Miss Sonia sit rattling at their counting-boards, the cricket chirps, and I sit beside them and paint, feeling warm and peaceful. But I don't permit myself this luxury very often, only once a month. [Pointing to the picture] Look there! That is a map of our country as it was fifty years ago. The green tints, both dark and light, represent forests. Half the map, as you see, is covered with it. Where the green is striped with red the forests were inhabited by elk and wild goats. Here on this lake, lived great flocks of swans and geese and ducks; as the old men say, there was a power of birds of every kind. Now they have vanished like a cloud. Beside the hamlets and villages, you see, I have dotted down here and there the various settlements, farms, hermit's caves, and water-mills. This country carried a great many cattle and horses, as you can see by the quantity of blue paint. For instance, see how thickly it lies in this part; there were great herds of them here, an average of three horses to every house. [A pause] Now, look lower down. This is the country as it was twenty-five years ago. Only a third of the map is green now with forests. There are no goats left and no elk. The blue paint is lighter, and so on, and so on. Now we come to the third part; our country as it appears to-day. We still see spots of green, but not much. The elk, the swans, the black-cock have disappeared. It is, on the whole, the picture of a regular and slow decline which it will evidently only take about ten or fifteen more years to complete. You may perhaps object that it is the march of progress, that the old order must give place to the new, and you might be right if roads had been run through these ruined woods, or if factories and schools had taken their place. The people then would have become better educated and healthier and richer, but as it is, we have nothing of the sort. We have the same swamps and mosquitoes; the same disease and want; the typhoid, the diphtheria, the burning villages. We are confronted by the degradation of our country, brought on by the fierce struggle for existence of the human race. It is the consequence of the ignorance and unconsciousness of starving, shivering, sick humanity that, to save its children, instinctively snatches at everything that can warm it and still its hunger. So it destroys everything it can lay its hands on, without a thought for the morrow. And almost everything has gone, and nothing has been created to take its place. [Coldly] But I see by your face that I am not interesting you.LOPAKHIN. [Listens] No.... They've got to collect their luggage and so on.... [Pause] Lubov Andreyevna has been living abroad for five years; I don't know what she'll be like now.... She's a good sort--an easy, simple person. I remember when I was a boy of fifteen, my father, who is dead--he used to keep a shop in the village here--hit me on the face with his fist, and my nose bled.... We had gone into the yard together for something or other, and he was a little drunk. Lubov Andreyevna, as I remember her now, was still young, and very thin, and she took me to the washstand here in this very room, the nursery. She said, "Don't cry, little man, it'll be all right in time for your wedding." [Pause] "Little man".... My father was a peasant, it's true, but here I am in a white waistcoat and yellow shoes ... a pearl out of an oyster. I'm rich now, with lots of money, but just think about it and examine me, and you'll find I'm still a peasant down to the marrow of my bones. [Turns over the pages of his book] Here I've been reading this book, but I understood nothing. I read and fell asleep. [Pause.] (Cherry Orchard, Act 1, scene 1, the first monologue in the play)
[ Uncle Vanya ]
"If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry."
Cherry Orchard (finale):
LUBOV. We're coming! [They go out.]
The stage is empty. The sound of keys being turned in the locks is heard, and then the noise of the carriages going away. It is quiet. Then the sound of an axe against the trees is heard in the silence, sadly and by itself. Steps are heard. FIERS comes in from the door on the right. He is dressed as usual, in a short jacket and white waistcoat; slippers on his feet. He is ill. He goes to the door and tries the handle.
FIERS. It's locked. They've gone away. [Sits on a sofa] They've forgotten about me.... Never mind, I'll sit here.... And Leonid Andreyevitch will have gone in a light overcoat instead of putting on his fur coat.... [Sighs anxiously] I didn't see.... Oh, these young people! [Mumbles something that cannot be understood] Life's gone on as if I'd never lived. [Lying down] I'll lie down... You've no strength left in you, nothing left at all... Oh, you ... bungler!
He lies without moving. The distant sound is heard, as if from the sky, of a breaking string, dying away sadly. Silence follows it, and only the sound is heard, some way away in the orchard, of the axe falling on the trees.
Minimalism (to connect with Beckett) *
One-acts Webcast 2006
chekhov.us/russian.html -- Bunin on Chekhov
chekhov.us/rus.html -- Verisaev on Chekhov
... do the POD!
Pre-publication version of a review that will be published in The Moscow Times June 17, 2005. Any and all quotations of, or references to, this article must cite John Freedman. © 2005 John Freedman. The final version will be available (with accompanying photos) on Friday in the Context section of The Moscow Times at www.themoscowtimes.com/context ------ What the Chekhov International Theater Festival does best is break down barriers. On the most superficial level, it does that by making the city of Moscow home almost to the whole world of theater for approximately two months every other summer. This time around, between the so-called World Series productions and the Youth and Experimental program, the festival is offering 33 shows from 15 countries, including six from France, five from Brazil and three each from Japan, Taiwan and England. But the festival also blazes trails by taking chances, by bringing together artists and art forms that may at first glance seem incompatible. We have already seen that principle in action in several of the shows making up the first two weeks of the eight-and-a-half weeks of non-stop international theater. Perhaps the risks were minimal in inviting German director and composer Heiner Goebbels to open the festival with his production of “Eraritjaritjaka” for the Theatre Vidy-Lausanne Espace Theatral Europeen of Switzerland. Goebbels is one of the most acclaimed theater artists in Europe today. On the other hand, Goebbels himself is a great risk-taker, a restless soul and a seeker for new ways of communicating through art. “Eraritjaritjaka” not only sounds like no other show we may know, it was a fascinating combination of music, theater and film which added up to that rarest of commodities – something new under the sun. In the case of “A Fine Time,” Nikolai Druchek’s production of a play by Chinese writer Chao Yo Min, the Chekhov Festival did more than just hunt down an unusual theatrical production. It joined the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center to co-produce this show created by Russian and Chinese artists. In all, the festival co-produced four projects this year, the others being “Urban Sax,” the extravaganza that kicked festivities off in the Aquarium Garden in the first days of June; Olga Subbotina’s production of “An-der-sen,” Ksenia Dragunskaya’s play about Hans Christian Andersen which ran last week; and British director Declan Donnellan’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” which will play at the Pushkin Theater from June 24 to July 3. “A Fine Time,” which closed Thursday after a seven-night run, featured an impressive line-up of Russian talent on the production side. Druchek, a 2002 graduate of Pyotr Fomenko’s directing course, has already made a name for himself with productions in Moscow (at the Fomenko Studio), St. Petersburg (at the prestigious Bolshoi Drama Theater) and other Russian cities. He was joined by Emil Kapelyush, a St. Petersburg resident who is regularly counted among Russia’s top stage designers, and Alexander Bakshi, one of the country’s most innovative composers. They worked with a cast of young Chinese actors, many of whom specialize in Kunqu opera. “A Fine Time,” also listed in English in the festival booklet as “The Lost Opera,” tells of a centuries-old acting dynasty which is on the verge of dying out. The tale comes to us largely through the narration of Din Lee (Van Yun), the family’s youngest son who is unable to become an actor because of an ailment that has left him with a limp. His thoughts and memories come to life as a series of semi-realistic scenes involving his actress mother (Ven Yan) and her lover (Chan Yunke), Din Lee’s biological father, and the family’s great, aging patriarch (Guan Duntyan) whose allegiance is less to his sons and daughters than to the mission of preserving the traditions of Kunqu opera. Bringing a light, sensitive hand to the play, Druchek coaxed thoughtful, sincere performances from the entire cast. The parallel stories of a dying family and a dying form of art are revealed with a sense of mystery and wonder. In the finale, the director’s image of hundreds of white flowers raining from the skies is startling in its beauty and in the sense of nostalgia it evokes. The space designed by Kapelyush with assistance from Chinese designer San Tzi is a dazzling mix of abstract images and concrete objects. Fluttering sheets of text hanging from the flies induce thoughts of leafy trees and of the scores and scripts that make up Kunqu opera. Bowed segments of bamboo, also hanging from the flies, are concretely suggestive of traditional Chinese boats and, when they travel from one side of the stage to the other, metaphorically evocative of the passing of life and time. The soundscape created by Bakshi comprises a delicate mix of traditional Chinese music, ritual humming, the natural sounds of banners and sleeves flapping, and emotionally-motivated bursts of percussion. With the art of opera being this work’s central focus, Bakshi’s treatment of the music takes center stage itself. In fact, during one key scene in which the dynasty’s further existence is called into question, the musicians move out from the corners of the stage and take up positions front stage and center. The development of the action behind them is obscured visually, but given greater meaning metaphorically, by their unnaturally prominent position on stage. “A Fine Time” was a fresh, often moving production that wed elements of Western and Eastern styles of theater to the enrichment of both. Goebbels’ arresting “Eraritjaritjaka,” based on texts by the Nobel Prize winning author Elias Canetti, was nothing if not another cultural stew. The German director worked in Switzerland with the French actor Andre Wilms and the Dutch Mondriaan String Quartet to interpret the texts of a Bulgarian-born writer who lived primarily in England but wrote exclusively in German. For good measure, the show’s title, drawn from a book by Canetti, is a phrase from the language of the Australian Aborigines which means, “inspired by the search for that which no longer is.” Wilms delivered Canetti’s often aphoristic phrases expressing the paradoxes of the human condition in a theatrical and musical context that expanded and renewed their significance. He began on an empty stage, surrounded by the musicians of the Mondriaan Quartet, but in a moment of frustration left the theater altogether. His actions from then on were projected to us by way of a video camera that followed him into a waiting vehicle which delivered him by way of Tverskaya Ulitsa and other Moscow side streets to an apartment from which most of the remainder of the show was filmed and performed. It was only as the finale approached that we realized Goebbels and his designer Klaus Grunberg had played a clever trick on us: The apartment from which much of the performance was broadcast was actually a theatrical set located backstage, immediately behind the very screen on which the action was projected. The sense of displacement and disorientation that Goebbels’ ruse foisted on the audience was a visceral interpretation of Canetti’s texts. “I feel most at home when I hold a pencil and write in German and around me everyone is speaking English,” Canetti wrote. This expression of the writer’s ability to find meaning in shifting linguistic and cultural spaces became, in Goebbels’ hands, a method of theatrical transformation. The Chekhov Festival has many more theatrical and cultural transformations on tap. Shortly after the premiere of Donnellan’s “Three Sisters,” Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki will offer his own interpretation of Chekhov’s “Ivanov,” running from June 28 to 30 at the Mossoviet Theater. Another significant cross-cultural work will be Simon McBurney’s production of “The Noise of Time” for the British Theatre Complicite. This theatrical rendition of Dmitry Shostakovich’s 15th string quartet will play July 9 to 13, also at the Mossoviet Theater. ***The Chekhov International Theater Festival runs to July 31. Consult the Calendar listings for complete performance information. Box office: 229-7721, 929-7057. Website: www.Chekhovfest.ru.
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