Anton Chekhov * 0 * 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * Chekhovnow * Anton Chekhov @ Amazon *
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." Chekhov: "I am afraid of those who will look for tendenciousness between the lines and who are determined to see me either as a liberal or a conservative. I am neither a liberal nor a conservative, neither a gradualist nor a monk nor an indifferentist. I would like to be nothing more than a free artist, and I regret that God did not give me the gift to be one. I hate falseness and coercion in all their forms .... Pharisaism, stupidity and arbitrariness reign not merely in merchants' houses and police stations: I see them in science, in literature, among the young. That is why I have no particular passion for either policemen or butchers or scientists or writers or the young. I consider brand-names and labels a prejudice. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom, freedom from force and falseness in whatever form they express themselves. That's the platform I'd subscribe to if I were a great artist."
3 Sisters: UAF Cut
The Time, not just Russia, the place is lost. Russian Proust.

The end of time like in Beckett. Still Nature.

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)

ChekhovNOW I place film600 new flash banner (Bad Subjects + Wrnog Theories) for PM take on the subjects.


3 Sisters most recent online translation * [ more quotes from The Cherry Orchard for DramLit ]



NINA: All men and beasts, lions, eagles, and quails, horned stags, geese, spiders, silent fish that inhabit the waves, starfish from the sea, and creatures invisible to the eye--in one word, life--all, all life, completing the dreary round imposed upon it, has died out at last. A thousand years have passed since the earth last bore a living creature on her breast, and the unhappy moon now lights her lamp in vain. No longer are the cries of storks heard in the meadows, or the drone of beetles in the groves of limes. All is cold, cold. All is void, void, void. All is terrible, terrible-- [A pause.] The bodies of all living creatures have dropped to dust, and eternal matter has transformed them into stones and water and clouds; but their spirits have flowed together into one, and that great world-soul am I! In me is the spirit of the great Alexander, the spirit of Napoleon, of Caesar, of Shakespeare, and of the tiniest leech that swims. In me the consciousness of man has joined hands with the instinct of the animal; I understand all, all, all, and each life lives again in me. [A pause.] I am alone. Once in a hundred years my lips are opened, my voice echoes mournfully across the desert earth, and no one hears. And you, poor lights of the marsh, you do not hear me. You are engendered at sunset in the putrid mud, and flit wavering about the lake till dawn, unconscious, unreasoning, unwarmed by the breath of life. Satan, father of eternal matter, trembling lest the spark of life should glow in you, has ordered an unceasing movement of the atoms that compose you, and so you shift and change forever. I, the spirit of the universe, I alone am immutable and eternal. [A pause.] Like a captive in a dungeon deep and void, I know not where I am, nor what awaits me. One thing only is not hidden from me: in my fierce and obstinate battle with Satan, the source of the forces of matter, I am destined to be victorious in the end. Matter and spirit will then be one at last in glorious harmony, and the reign of freedom will begin on earth. But this can only come to pass by slow degrees, when after countless eons the moon and earth and shining Sirius himself shall fall to dust. Until that hour ... [A pause.] Satan, my mighty foe, advances; I see his dread and lurid eyes! [Chekhov, Seagull]


Russian & Soviet Theatre (Rudnitzki) * Chekhov: "I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like "The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc," "Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily" — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you'll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc. ... In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters' spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don't try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she." — To AP Chekhov, May 10, 1886 Letters

On the threshold of the 20th century Anton Chekhov recounted to Pyotr Gnedich his conversation with Lev Tolstoy: «Once he told me, "You know, I can not stand Shakespeare, but your plays are even worse. Shakespeare, at least, grabs the reader for the collar and leads him to a certain destination without letting him turn aside. But where do your heroes leads to? From the couch, where they lie, to the cellar and back?"» (*1). AS (Anatoly Smelyansky): In his major dramas and later prose, Chekhov didn't focus on the beginning, on courtship. The pain of keeping and saving love, this is a Chekhovian theme. Love is a great passion, it elevates you. But Chekhov looks at what happens after this elevation, the next morning or the next month. In the vaudevilles, real love does not exist. The characters use the word, but they don't know what it means. Or they confuse love with sexual desire. AS: The later dramas are parodies of the vaudevilles. Look at Chekhov's famous devices from the serious dramas: the muffling of events, silences, pauses, idleness, the desire to do nothing, the inability to solve questions, complaining. In the vaudevilles, it's the opposite. Those heroes have goals; every second they are doing something to get what they want. In the serious dramas, there is an unresolved central tension. In the vaudevilles, everything is possible, and often the characters get what they want. Chekhov reconstructed his vision of life when he began to write the serious dramas.

Three Farces and a Funeral (also, see the American Repertory Theatre -- Love letters)

7 Short Farces by Anton Chekhov: The Bear, a Reluctant Tragic Hero, Swan Song, the Proposal, the Dangers of Tobacco, the Festivities, the Wedding Reception 0822216450

The Brute and Other Farces Authors: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Eric Bentley, Eric Bentley (Editor), Translator 0879102241 $19.95

"American spectators are most familiar with his famous plays -- The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard. And the tradition is often to stage them in a sad, boring, melancholy manner. With these vaudevilles we want to show that there is another Chekhov, young, brilliant, funny, full of life, with a great and even grotesque sense of humor. This is Chekhov too." Brustein points out that despite the prevailing comic tone, Chekhov "finds the basis for these comedies in pain. He associates courtship with strife. If they were just superficial, buffoonish comedies, we wouldn't pay the slightest bit of attention to them. But like all of his work, it is rooted in some reality, and that reality is pain."

... Despite his notorious personal privacy, says Brustein, "you know exactly who he was from the plays. Humane to the marrow of his bones, tough-minded, not at all sentimental, totally non-ideological, uninterested in intellectuality or abstract ideas, concerned about the tide of provinciality and mediocrity that was beginning to overcome the more interesting and decent men and women of his generation, full of moral purpose regarding where we had to go and what we had to do to save ourselves."

Off Nevsky Prospekt: St Petersburg's Theatre Studios in the 1980s and 1990s (Russian Theatre Archive) 905702134X

Chekhov - Love Letters

M. Chekhov -- Acting One: Fundamentals

The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov (Cambridge Companions to Literature) : This volume of specially commissioned essays explores the world of Anton Chekhov and the creation, performance and interpretation of his works. The Companion begins with an examination of Chekhov's life and his Russia. Later film versions and adaptations of Chehov's works are analyzed, with insights also offered on acting Chekhov, by Ian McKellen, and directing Chekhov, by Trevor Nunn and Leonid Heifetz. The volume provides essays on special topics such as Chekhov as writer, Chekhov and women, and the Chekhov comedies and stories. 0521589177

Understanding Chekhov: A Critical Study of Chekhov's Prose and Drama by Donald Rayfield -- Eminent Chekhov scholar Donald Rayfield offers this introduction to the great Russian writer with the aim of making Chekhov's stories and plays more enjoyable for the reader or audience. Rayfield reveals the many levels of meaning and intention in Chekhov's writings, and the varied interpretations that author, reader, theater director, or critic can make. Rayfield explains the idiosyncratic world of Russian theater and Russian literary life from the 1880s to 1904 and illuminates Chekhov's connections to European prose and drama before and after him. 0299163148

Chekhov's Plays : An Opening into Eternity by Richard Gilman -- In this eloquent and insightful book, an eminent critic examines each of Chekhov`s full-length plays, shoeing how they relate to each other, to Chekhov`s short stories, and to his life. Richard Gilman places the plays in the context of Russian and European drama and the larger culture of the period and, offering textual commentary and a discussion of stagecraft and dramaturgy, explores the reasons behind the enduring power of these works. 0300072562

Life in Letters, A (Penguin Classics) -- From his teenage years in provincial Russia to his premature death in 1904, Anton Chekhov wrote thousands of letters to a wide range of correspondents. This fascinating new selection tells Chekhov’s story as a man and a writer through affectionate bulletins to his family, insightful discussions of literature with publishers and theater directors, and tender love letters to his actress wife. Vividly evoking landscapes, people, and his daily life, the letters offer revealing glimpses into Chekhov’s preoccupations—the onset of tuberculosis, his dual careers as doctor and writer, and his ambivalence about his growing reputation as Russia’s foremost playwright and author. This volume takes us inside the mind of one of the world’s greatest writers, and the character that emerges from these pages is resilient, generous, charming, and life enhancing. 0140449221

The Chekhov Theatre : A Century of the Plays in Performance -- This is the first cross-cultural study of Chekhov's plays in production. Many now consider Chekhov a playwright equal to Shakespeare, and this book studies how the reputation evolved, and how the presentation of his plays varied and altered from their initial productions in Russia to the most recent postmodern deconstructions of them. Particular attention is given to the staging of Chekhov in Russia before and after the Revolution, and under different regimes; in the English-speaking world, in Western and Eastern Europe, as well as in Japan. 052178395X

Chekhov on DVD

Chekhov Books

Chekhov Plays

literature diary
Dear Writer, Dear Actress: The Love Letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper Edited and translated by Jean Benedetti Love letters are not generally the great epistolary reads. Passion and gush have forced even Woodrow Wilson into babbling repetitions. But this off-sided match-up of the tubercular Russian playwright and his younger actress has its charms. She chatters insecurely ("You're sick of writing to me, you don't feel anything when you write to me, isn't that right?") and he reassures her in a fatherly way. Kept apart by illness and theatrical commitments, the two of them become, well, Chekhovian ("If only we could arrange so that we could live in Moscow!"). After they've wed, their letters are the marriage's chief intercourse, and after Chekhov dies, Knipper keeps writing him, signing off as "Widow."


* Cherry Orchard THR215 Notes *

Chekhov gave that inner truth to the art of the stage which served as the foundation for what was latter called the Stanislavsky System, which must be approached through Chekhov, or which serves as a bridge to the approach to Chekhov. (Stanislavsky 329)

Chekhov III -- Time

“Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling. There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments… you must be prepared for all this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.” – Chekhov to his wife
"One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake." Chekhov


As 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.

Prose? 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 Day

In 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 Passing

Chekhov As 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 Departures

The 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.


Do 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 Message

As 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." ]

[ Anatoly, you must complete the topics bar! themes + subjects ]


There are many good books on Chekhov in Russian. Some are anti-Chekhov (Shestov) -- and good.

Chekhov: Realism and Naturalism (extreme "realism'?). Chekhov and Absurdism. Chekhov and the postmodern perception (Philosophers from THR Theory, 413).


Read plays! Commentaries on Chekhov: Virginia Woolf and Peter Brook (215 textbook, pp. 436-437)

[ 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.

[ Uncle Vanya ]

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)


The Cherry Orchard -- 215 Dramatic Literature

"If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry."

Next: Chekhov4
Of course, they end tragically... New drama, theatre, acting -- new forms.


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 -- Bunin on Chekhov -- 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 ------

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: