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M. Chekhov -- Acting One: Fundamentals

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chekhov 0 : overview

Chekhov: Intro + Gorky (Engl. long)

Chekhov 1: same as intro?

Chekhov 2: Chronotope, Genre, etc. + Bunin (Russian)

Chekhov 3: time + Verisaev about Ch. (Rus)

Chekhov 4: 3 Sisters + Cherry Orchard (scenes)

Chekhov 5: Farces 2005 [mini-Chekhov]

chekhov 6

chekhov 7

Chekhov Now: postmodern

[ Russian Theatre historical bg: art, technology, events in Theatre Theory ]

Chekhov & Stanislavsky (Moscow Art Theatre)

Method Acting and Michail Chekhov + Vsevolod Meyerhold (Biomechanics)

The Inspector General (UAF show) main stage 1991 (translation/adaptation)

Gogol-Inspector (play) Major influence in stage comedy (situation + character treatment)

* Chekhov -- for writers (lessons)

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Unknown and undiscovered Chekhov -- most interesting (Chekhov and the Greeks, tragedy).

"Future Chekhov" = Your Chekhov

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Chekhov's Legacy [ Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre and School ]

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European Motifs: French, German, English

Chekhov and Music (Art), online files

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"After Chekhov" [ T. Williams and/or Beckett ]

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chekhov4 :

Vishnevyi sad [The Cherry Orchard] (1904) (THR215 DramLit):

Chekhov's last play was written in the final year of his life when he was desperately ill with the tuberculosis that had overshadowed so much of his life. Yet, despite his own tragic circumstances, he remained defiantly insistent that his play was exactly as specified in the subtitle - 'A Comedy in Four Acts'. From his letters and notebooks, he appears to have been retracing his own comic roots, glancing back to the example of one of his favourite comic writers, Nikolai Gogol, whose “laughter through tears” formula would have commended itself to Chekhov: “I dream of writing a very funny play where the devil would go about in a whirlwind of chaos.” It seems an unusually puckish and mischievous project for a dying writer, but those who first read and performed it for the Moscow Arts Theatre were overwhelmed by tears not laughter. Chekhov was mightily displeased that his comedy had been turned into a tearful tragedy and remonstrated with the director, Nemirovich-Danchenko, and his partner, the great actor, Stanislavsky, claiming that they had failed to read the play attentively enough.
On the face of it, the subject of the play would appear to be one that Russians at the turn of the new century found it impossible not to regard with great seriousness – social change – the passing away of an old, aristocratic, social order and people's hopes for a new social order. Throughout the nineteenth century, Russia had failed to adapt to the political and social challenges of the modern world. In the new century there was a desperate need for change and yet a weary sense of political impotence and social bankruptcy. In such a context, it is hardly surprising that the subject of Chekhov's play would have struck most Russians as a profoundly serious one. But the subject of a play does not, in itself, define an author's attitude towards that subject. The play conjures up for its audience a whole range of attitudes to the past, the present, and the future, but the comedy ensures that the audience is made aware of the inadequacies of all the characters in their attempts to cope with the passing of time. The different ways in which different characters perceive the cherry orchard make it a focal symbol for a highly poetic exploration of the theme of time and social change.
The action of the play depends upon a simple arrival-departure structure. In Act 1, the return of Madame Ranevskaya, her daughter Anya, and her entourage, to the estate, occurs just at the moment when the estate is about to be sold to pay off their debts: the family is all but bankrupt. Lopakhin, whose family were formerly serfs on the estate, is now a rich merchant and he puts forward a good plan to rescue the family from total loss of their estate: sell the orchard for summer cottage building plots. Ranevskaya and her brother cannot contemplate the destruction of the orchard: the plan is rejected. In Act II, Lopakhin continues without success to persuade them to sell. In Act III, Madame Ranevskaya hosts a bizarre, seedy ball on the same day that the estate is being auctioned. Her intimations of impending disaster are confirmed when a drunken Lopakhin returns to announce that he, the son of a serf, is now the owner of the cherry orchard and the estate. He intends to carry out his plan to chop down the orchard and build summer cottages. In Act IV, everything has been packed up, the family is ready to depart. It seems that the ancient servant, Firs, is the only character who will not survive the traumatic change that has taken place. Locked in, left behind, and neglected, Firs lies down – to pass away. Offstage can be heard the axes, chopping down the cherry trees. The passing away of the orchard has been used throughout the play to give lyrical expression to the central theme of time and change. From the beauty of its May-time blossom, outside the windows of the nursery in the first act, to its skyline presence as an insignificant part of a much vaster world of time and nature in the second act, and, finally, its loss and destruction in the last two acts – the orchard has been a strangely mute, yet natural, chorus to the relentless force of change.
Part of the subtlety of the play is that it invites the audience's imagination to engage with different orders of temporal experience and the sheer strangeness of our existence in time. The play is a comedy not simply because of the large number of comic scenes and characters but because of the author's attitude to his subject – and that attitude is chiefly defined by Chekhov's emphasis upon survival and the acceptance of change. The play registers the pathos of Fir's passing, the orchard's destruction, the dull suffering of change in so many different lives - but life is going on. The Ranevskayas have survived this traumatic change in their fortunes. The last act makes clear that, even if they are not fully in control of what is happening to them, they are letting go of their past, they are moving on. The comic detachment of Chekhov's treatment allows the audience to recognise, for example, the fecklessness and infantilism of the Ranevskayas, or, the immature idealism of Trofimov's revolutionary rhetoric – but, at no point, does the diagnosis allow the audience to simplify that subtle juxtaposing of conflicting attitudes and feelings. The audience are forced to be both critical and compassionate with all of the characters: 'truth', in Chekhovian comedy, is a relative construct.
Summarising the plot of The Cherry Orchard is a somewhat futile task because it tells us so little about what it means to experience the play. Compared with a conventional naturalist drama, the play can seem curiously plotless and its characters may seem to be marooned in a world of inaction. Instead of heroes and villains dominating a well-plotted action, there would seem to be as many plots as there are characters. Our attention is dispersed across a series of tiny scenic units which offer fragmentary and episodic glimpses into characters differing in age, sex, rank, and values: the character range is sufficient to create the illusion that the social world of the estate mirrors that larger social microcosm of which it is but a tiny part. When Trofimov, the young student radical, claims that “all Russia is our orchard”, the audience is prompted to make an implicit recognition of the representative value and scope of that estate world. But it is patterns of attitude and feeling that become the focus of audience attention and Chekhov's orchestration of these patterns across the generations, between masters and servants, between men and women, makes the whole web of relationships on stage utterly absorbing. Instead of sensational incidents, heroic confrontations, or melodramatic conflicts, Chekhov creates a dramatic texture that depends upon a mosaic of tiny incidents, the minutiae of everyday encounters. The slender narrative thread that ties the characters and incidents together is the loss of the estate but that 'action' is not the locus of audience interest, it is the changing perceptions and feelings of the characters in relation to their situation that captures our attention.
Throughout his career, Chekhov had waged war on the insidious influence of political and social stereotypes in his country's dialogue with itself. While he may have accepted the inevitability of revolution in Russia, there are many elements in the play which suggest a deliberate challenge to the stereotypical thinking of the ideologues of left and right. The fierce political arguments of the time may have predisposed an audience to think in terms of the stock types commonly mobilised in such debates – the ineffectual, feckless landowner, the revolutionary student, the kulak or rich merchant from peasant origins – but while the playwright deploys these familiar social (and stage) types, his play works to subvert the stereotypes. In his letters, his advice to the actors playing different roles is invariably calculated to make them discard any stereotypical assumptions. For example, by insisting that the aristocratic Stanislavsky should act the part of the merchant, Lopakhin, Chekhov clearly felt that such casting would work against the class stereotype. Most tellingly, he confided to his wife, the actress Olga Knipper, that Lopakhin needed to be understood as the central character in the play. Instead of a rapacious, money-grubbing kulak, Chekhov insisted that Lopakhin had to be understood as a sensitive, decent, hard-working person. It is significant that in the final act, Trofimov, the young revolutionary, seems to have completely revised his crude stereotype of the merchant when he praises Lopakhin's fine, sensitive soul and his slender fingers that are like an artist's. But to focus on a single role, or character, does scant justice to the complex poetic achievement of Chekhov's drama which allows him to interweave different genres and styles of characterisation.
While as a whole the play seems to achieve an unusually complex interweaving of the naturalistic, the comic, the tragic, and the poetic, there are two major groupings of the characters that operate on quite different generic wavelengths. The central group is made up of characters that engage the audience's sympathies in a predominantly, naturalistic fashion: Lyubov, Lopakhin, Trofimov, Anya, Varya, and Gayev. The depth and complexity of the latter characters is grounded in naturalist conventions. The remaining characters are not devoid of naturalist touches, nor pathos, but their primary function seems to be to offer comic perspectives upon the principal characters. Yepikhodov, Pishchik, Dunyasha, Yasha, Charlotta, and Firs, are figures that help to release some of the most powerful comic energies in the play while retaining both choric and thematic functions. Yepikhodov, for example, may be one of the most grotesquely farcical characters in the play but he is crucial to that musical patterning of attitude and feeling by means of which Chekhov shapes a richly ambivalent, audience response - often poised on a knife-edge between tears and laughter. His nickname, “two-and-twenty-misfortunes ”, defines his essentially farcical nature since his daily life is a never-ending catalogue of humiliating blunders and domestic pratfalls. But the image of this forlorn clown whose existence is measured out in “misfortunes” appears to replay in a parodic, minor key that theme of change, and tragic “misfortune”, which dominates the main action. Even his lovelorn, romantic fatalism farcically exaggerates, and indirectly comments upon, feelings and attitudes that we encounter in a major, naturalistic key with Lyubov Andreyevna, Anya, and Trofimov.
But none of these secondary, comic characters works in isolation. Critics appeal to Chekhov's “musicalisation” of the dramatic texture because they recognise the intensely “musical” imagination that he brings to the interplay of voices, groupings, motifs, and generic key shifts. In terms of “misfortune”, for example, Yepikhodov may offer a drolly, parodic counterpoint to Ranevskaya but Pishchik, who is equally as feckless as Lyubov, does not suffer change – he welcomes it. The musical variation is complete when as audience we find ourselves rejoicing in the accident of his good fortune in the final act and, then, just as quickly, find ourselves puzzled by how keenly we are touched by Pishchik's distraught incomprehension at the news of the family's impending departure. The stark image of almost mute, childlike hurt in the face of unexpected loss and separation catches most audiences off-guard, as clowns so often do, but it also prepares the audience to see, moments later, Lyubov and Gayev huddling together in the nursery for the last time, equally childlike and vulnerable. However, the latter moment is preceded and counterpointed by a moment of (almost) vaudeville farce when Lopakhin fails to propose to Varya.
The Cherry Orchard refuses its audience the comfort of a fixed point or perspective from which to view the action. Change is both the thematic and stylistic heart of the play. If plays, like musical pieces, had pointers to tempo and expression then The Cherry Orchard would have to be marked “Mutevole” (changeable), although “Tumulto” (confused state) might be closer to Chekhov's initial yearning for a comedy that would be like a whirlwind. Part of the whirlwind is the ceaseless flux of change where, in spite of Lopakhin's vision of human beings as giants, the dream of controlling our own destinies must remain a dream insofar as our lives will remain subject to chance – fortune and misfortune. But part of the whirlwind belongs to comedy's irreverent dismantling of the clichés and stereotypes of the social world. Lyubov, Lopakhin, and Trofimov, are central to Chekhov's deconstruction of the stereotypes which as social types carried considerable ideological weight in the political conflicts at the turn of the century in Russia. Unfortunately, Chekhov's success in transforming Lyubov Andreyevna into a living character rather than a type tends to tip the balance of modern productions towards that tragedy of dispossession which he clearly wanted to subvert in favour of comic detachment. Many of the most negative traits that would seem to confirm the class stereotype are present – her inability to see people who are of a lower class, her fetishism of objects and neglect of people, her fecklessness and class guilt, and her self-centredness. But Chekhov works to complicate the type so that snobbery keeps company with unaffectedness, toughness with sentimental effusiveness, passion with aristocratic sangfroid, and so on. Her vivacity, impulsiveness, and scattiness, make her into an irrepressible force of living changefulness – Lopakhin's unspoken, barely conscious, love for her is the most eloquent testimony to her finest qualities. A living character, not a stereotype.
By the end of the play, most audiences would find it hard to resist Trofimov's diagnosis at the end of Act II that the institution of serfdom, the owning of living souls, “has caused degeneration in us all”. Masters and servants alike have been corrupted by serf-owning and some of the most satirical moments in the play expose the extent of that corruption. But the audience is not forced to take sides, the judgement is less important than the recognition of the evenhandedness and objectivity of the diagnosis. Chekhov once suggested that had he had a hand in the training of young doctors then he would have insisted that before proceeding to diagnosis they should first make their patients laugh. The diagnosis in The Cherry Orchard is a social one and it includes the audience within the diagnosis. [ ]


After 2009 --

Virtual 3 Sisters: online Text
One-acts Webcast 2006
Web-show -- 3 Sisters [when?]