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Chekhov Two: Notes

2007 -- chekhov0 [ new ]


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Chekhov - Love Letters Chekhov with all the traditions of the 19th century perhaps is not a Russian writer. He violates the main principle of Russian literature -- he doesn't teach. In his skepticism,he is close to Lermontov, of course with a good doze of humor.

There is no hope.

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Summary

M. Chekhov -- Acting One: Fundamentals
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chekhov.ru

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Chekhov: Ново только то, что талантливо. Что талантливо, то ново. ["New is only what is talented. What is talented that is the NEW."] -- Read Bunin (in Russian, bottom)

Mini-Chekhov.05 -- download (MS.doc)

Intro: last hour of his live, maybe, even 30 minutes. Six points between four farces: metting her, proposal, wedding, family... and death. That's life.

That's all?

What about the short stormy youth? A few years of expectations, hopes, inspirations, grand illusions! How fast!

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RAT I & II (Russian American Files... and Chekhov).

"Russian Chekhov" vs. "American Chekhov"

* Pages in Russian are moved to chekhov.vtheatre.net [ chekhov.us ] !

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... Gorky on Chekhov [ in chekhov1 ]

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Time-space and space-time...

CHEKHOV 413: Chronotope

Mikhail Bakhtin uses this term "khrono-top" (Greeks' understanding of unity of time and space). Look at the Chekhov's revolution from two perpectives: how he uses space and time. [Time as Space of living, postmodern uses term territory.]

Plot and Story (Aristotle): What is immitation of ACTION?

Character as a story (plot). Evolution (changes) of each character and Method Acting, New Actor.

Thought (Idea) as a main structural category: character = message. [Texture as Structure]

[Not my texts, lost the author's URL. My comments are in italics]

The New Development

In one of his most famous letters (written as early as 1887) he formulated his revolutionary position:

"The demand is made that the hero and heroine should be dramatically effective. But after all, in real life people don't spend every minute shooting each other, hanging themselves and making confessions of love. They don't spend all their time saying clever things. They're more occupied with eating, drinking, flirting and talking stupidities - and these are the things which ought to be shown on the stage. A play should be written in which people arrive, go away, have dinner, talk about the weather and play cards. Life must be exactly as it is. And people as they are - not on stilts.... Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple as it is in life. People eat their dinner, just eat their dinner, and all the time their happiness is being established or their lives are being broken up."

It took Chekhov many years to perfect his "life as it is" technique, and in his earlier plays he was unable to purge his works completely of their outward melodrama. (Chekhov's Love Stories)

If we look at the stories (there are stories) behind the action, we will find concealed not only strong drama, but indeed heavy melodrama. In The Seagull, an aging actress losing her lover and selfishly destroying her son. We have an innocent young girl seduced, abandoned, and losing her child and then reduced to the sordid life of a provincial actress on tour. We have an aspiring young writer mutilated in spirit by his mother, deprived of his great love, unsuccessful in his work, and finally desperate enough to shoot himself. That none of this happens directly before our eyes is not to say it is not happening at all in the play.

In Three Sisters, we have the great underlying melodrama of dispossession. The Prozorovs are slowly dispossessed of their spirit and more concretely of their love. The moribund and sinister forces of the insensitive and uncultured provincials (embodied in the "evil" Natasha) eventually wear out the Prozorovs. At first it is merely a matter of being forced out of their rooms and changing their habitual way of life. But by the end they are forced completely out of their house. Masha returns to Kulygin, Olga lives in town in a government apartment, Irina is going to live at the brickyard, and Andrey is kept busy out of the house pushing the baby carriage. In their places are the dispossessors - Natasha and her lover Protopopov. With the Prozorovs evicted from their own home, Natasha will cut down some trees, change some furniture, and eradicate all traces of her antagonists. Once again, the essential drama is submerged. We do not see the dispossession taking place and yet what we do not see is the very center of the play - it is what the play is about.

[monologue from "Beyond Therapy" by Durang about Checkhov]

Hidden Melodrama

Uncle Vanya is about an even more subtle dispossession - that of hopes and ideals. Through all the chatter and diversion we are seeing a family and their friends losing everything for which they lived and worked. And in The Cherry Orchard, the play in which the least action takes place onstage, we find the greatest melodrama of all - an entire generation and class turned out and homeless, alienated in a changing world, left without a familiar signpost or tradition.

[discussion about melodrama as a genre]

Hidden Tensions

The tension and drama hidden away in Chekhov's plays is almost unbearable. It is the tension of people being dispossessed of home, ideal, spirit, love, meaning. But what we see on the stage is not the great undertheme (any more then we see it in real life as we move about our daily routine). What we see is unexceptional people leading mundane lives while beneath, beyond, behind them these dreadful things are happening.

["subtext" concept]

Chekhov's Realism

It is this minute portrayal of life as it is which defines Chekhov's new approach to realism. One of the most famous (and apropos) examples of this realism comes in the fourth-act card game of The Seagull. While cards are being dealt, bids are being made, and the play is proceeding, it looks like an ordinary, friendly group of people passing the long autumn evening with a game of lotto. An essentially boring activity to watch on the stage, if that were all that were going on. But much, much more is happening. The underlying themes of the play are one by one being exposed between the bids and deals: Arkadina, who deludes herself with the thoughts that she is an important, triumphant actress, relives a recent trivial success before a bunch of students; Konstantine still has not met with literary success, and the others discuss his shortcomings: Arkadina has never yet found time to read her son's work (nor did she ever have time to do anything for him but drain his emotions); Shamreyeff mentions the stuffed seagull (the immolated Nina) which Trigorin has ironically forgotten (as he has forgotten Nina); Konstantine is uneasy and full of premonitions (lending a suspense which will resolve itself in his suicide that night).

Another clear and painful example of the subsurface tension comes in the brief fourth-act exchange in The Cherry Orchard between Varya and Lopakhin. Lopakhin has just promised Mme. Ranevskaya that he will finally propose to her daughter Varya. Varya has been waiting for this proposal for two years. Whe the two are left alone they talk of the weather and of a broken thermometer and not one word is said about marriage. It is probably the most distressing conversation about the weather in drama.

[compare Realism and Naturalism -- Ibsen is next to read]

Counterpoint

One of the remarkable methods that Chekhov developed to maintain his lifelike surfaces with the seething understructures, was the use of the verbal counterpoint. Characters spin off into their own worlds of misery. They conduct intelligent conversations during which no one listens to anyone else. Individuals talk on about their own preoccupations as though each had been answered appropriately.
In the second act of Three Sisters there is a wonderful example of this counterpoint. People begin to arrive home from their day's activities and each one talks about the subject most on his mind, regardless of what he hears (or manages not to hear) the others saying. Vershinin is hungry, and when he doesn't get something to eat he complains about his wife and philosophizes about life - and no one is at all interested. Irina can talk only about her utter exhaustion. Tusenbach has resigned his commission but it is of moment only to himself. Masha is absorbed with the howling in the chimney and the melancholy it evokes in her.

They appear to be a group of people exchanging information about their day, but there is no practical exchange. They are talking at each other and over each over. The surface looks like a realistic bit of conversation. But the counterpoint is subtly evoking a mood of distraction and preoccupation.

[monologues are the nature of dialogues, inner monologue]

Means Of Creating Mood

Chekhov uses many other means of creating mood - of putting the audience in the same frame of mind as the characters. One of his pet methods, frequently lost on modern readers of translations, is reference to other works and authors. It is as if in a contemporary play a character referred to Tennessee Williams. The theater audience would immediately, almost unconsciously, call up an image of a decaying and sordid south. And this image or frame of mind would be applied to the onstage atmosphere the playwright is attempting to create.

So Chekhov quotes liberally from folksongs and poems and from Shakespeare (in the first act of The Seagull, Konstantin and his mother trade lines from Hamlet - a way of defining their own relationship). He makes use, for his own atmosphere, of the images called up by Tolstoy, Gogol, Lermontov, Turgenev, etc. And the immediate responses these names (or specific works) call up are deftly applied to heighten tension, create suspense, or intensify a feeling.

[see POMO Chekhov; present created by the references to the past: see 413]

Stage Sounds

A more direct way of creating mood is Chekhov's liberal use of onstage and offstage sounds. He uses sound on two levels. One level is the obvious and conscious noise connected with the action. So we have the piercing, shattering fire alarm in Act III of Three Sisters (Chekhov worked for many hours to get just the right sound for that alarm). And at the end of the play there is the military music fading into the distance - one of the most nostalgic of public sounds.

In The Cherry Orchard we hear the famous distant and dull thud of the axes against trees. In Uncle Vanya we hear the sound of the carriage bells as everyone departs, leaving Sonia and Vanya once again in their desolate isolation. In The Seagull we hear Konstantine playing his melancholy waltzes from another room.

Incidental Sounds

As numerous as the action-connected noises are, there are a host of incidental sounds which less obviously create atmosphere. We frequently hear, for instance, the watchman tapping outside, closing the characters safely into their isolated worlds. Much use is made of music. Telegin plays his mournful guitar; the "Jewish orchestra," playing at the mock ball in The Cherry Orchard, plays numbers appropriate to the emotions revealing themselves in the next room; an officer strums his guitar at the three sisters' party.

Stanislavsky discusses how important sound is for a director of Chekhov's plays. "I invented all sort of mises en scene [staging] the singing of birds, the barking of dogs, [noises of] cuckoos, owls, clocks, sleigh bells, crickets."Chekhov himself liberally provided in the stage directions for noises of all sorts which contributed to his desired atmosphere.

[New Drama: stage directing by playwrights from Chekhov to Williams to Beckett]

Use Of Nature

Chekhov used nature much in the way he used sounds - to further the mood he was creating. In The Seagull, for example, the first act is very much governed by the rising moon which is to provide the lighting for the disastrous theatrical. The last act of that play is dominated by a howling storm which causes the "bare and hideous" stage, used long ago at the theatrical, to shake and the curtains to flap. The wind howls in the chimney in The Three Sisters, evoking mournful memories. In Uncle Vanya the wind bangs the windows so violently that they have to be closed - shutting out all revivifying breaths of air.

Chekhov uses the local specifics of nature extensively. Think, for instance, how he uses trees. In Vanya the debased forests in the provinces are directly equated with the lives of the provincial inhabitants. In The Three Sisters, Natasha will chop down the old fir trees to complete her triumph of dispossession; in The Cherry Orchard, the blooming tress recall a flood of childhood memories condemned to the axe.

[Use production notes in 3 Sisters and the archives of the 3sis Forum.]

PS

Chekhov1 notes, Chekhov4: Postmodern View.

[ In 413 must continue time-space comaparative analysis ]

Chekhov's Humor? Examples.

Irony (definition).

Homework

200 words on The Cherry Orchard (Fall02 and 07)

NB

Use 3 Sisters Archives for monologues and scenes.
Next: Chekhov3: Use of Time
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