Theatre Thursday

Welcome back to Theatre Thursday. Today we're tying one on for all the crazy Russians in our lives, bless. We're looking at Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov.

The studio through which I honed my now-unused craft was heavy on two playwrights: Shakespeare (swoon) and Chekhov (eyeroll). You know my feelings on Shakespeare, and now you know my feelings on Chekhov. Look, I get it: Chekhov was a genius who trafficked in subtext and the subconscious like no one before him. Yay. But, for the most part? I find his plays mind-numbingly long winded (pot, meet kettle). Perhaps I feel this way because all productions I've seen have either been ham-handed or very, very underfunded. (And I'm sorry - it's tough to get into a naturalistic Russian play if the production couldn't afford to rent a good samovar, especially if the samovar is an important element, as it is in Three Sisters.)

Three Sisters is, as you guessed, about three sisters: Olga, Masha and Irina. Their parents are dead (their father died a year before the first scene), they're living in the country, they're all filled with annoying [to me] ennui, and everybody wants to move back to Moscoooowwwww *whine*. Moscow, Moscow, Moscow is all any of the sisters talks about (feels like it, anyway), because Moscow represents dreams, ideals, culture, perfection, etc. and so forth. The three sisters have one brother (Andrei) who managed to marry a real hellion (Natalya/Natasha) who systematically deconstructs the sisters' home life, destroying their insular life of dreaming of Moscow, Moscoooww, Moscooooowww.

Act Three is, to me, the heart of the play. There's a fire in town and everyone is rushing around to help. Natasha has taken over the house the siblings share and Olga, Masha and Irina experience the collective catharsis of Our Life Sucks, Huh? It's an interesting scene, since Masha (who's been cheating on her husband) is the only one of the three to seemingly realize that if she wants to be happy? She's got to make that happen. Here's Irina's big monologue in the midst of the madness:

IRINA. (Sobbing.) Where? Where has it all gone? Where is it? Oh my God, my God! I have forgotten everything, forgotten everything… Everything is confused in my head… I can't remember what is the word for window in Italian, or for ceiling… I am forgetting everything, I forget more every day, and life flies past and never returns, never, and we will never go to Moscow… I see now that we will never go… (Controlling herself.) Oh, I'm so unhappy… I can't work, I won't work. That's enough! That's enough! I worked in the Telegraph Office, now I am employed by the Town Council, and I hate and despise everything that they give me to do… I'm already twenty four, I have been working already for ages, my brain is drying up, I'm growing ugly and old, and nothing I do, nothing at all gives me any joy, and time goes flying by and all the time it seems as if you are abandoning real life, life that is beautiful, you are going farther and farther away from it, over some sort of precipice. I am in total despair, and how I am alive, why I have not killed myself before now I do not understand…

Olga shortly convinces Irina to become engaged to a man she doesn't love. Masha, hearing all of this, proceeds with this:

MASHA. I would like to confess, my dearest sisters. My heart is breaking. I will confess to you, and then to nobody else, never, never… I will tell you this minute. (Quietly.) this is my secret, but you all know it already… I can't keep quiet any longer…
I love him, I love him… I love that man… You have only just seen him… But why dissemble. In one word only, I love Vershinin…
OLGA. (Goes behind her screen.) Don't say any more. In any case I am not listening.
MASHA. There is nothing to be done. (Takes her head in her hands.) At first he seemed to me to be so odd, and then I pitied him… and then I fell in love with him… I fell in love with his voice, with what he said, with his two unhappy daughters…
OLGA. (Behind the screen.) I am not listening, whatever you say. Whatever nonsense you talk, I have no intention of listening.
MASHA. You're just mad, Olga. I'm in love, that means, it's my fate. It is my destiny to love him… And he loves me… This is all terrible. Isn't it? Or is it wonderful? (Grasps Irina's hand and pulls her towards herself.) My darling Irina… How will we go on living our lives? What will become of us?… When you read a novel, any novel, then it seems that everything is so old hat and everything is easily understood, but when you fall in love yourself then it becomes obvious to you that nobody knows anything and each person must make their own decisions… My dearest sisters, my own dearest ones… I have made my confession, now I will be silent… I will now be silent, like the madman in Gogol's story… silence, silence…

You see how on one level (okay, several levels) it's achingly awesome, Chekhov, and how on another level it's "OMFG, get over it!"? That's my take on Chekhov, in a nutshell. And DON'T get me started on Uncle Vanya or The Cherry Orchard. I'll stick to Three Sisters and The Seagull, thanks.

I think I hear NYU creeping up on me to take my diploma back...

1 comment:

  1. "But, for the most part? I find his plays mind-numbingly long winded (pot, meet kettle)."

    Two words: Philip Cook. Haha

    OH Uncle Vanya....WE SHALL REST! WE shall....BE UNHAPPY!!!! Why is every portrait of Russia I see so....miserable? It seems like a place I never want to go! Thanks for really brought back Ms. Spark's class to me. UGH! :)


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