Monday, November 27, 2006

Ruining "The Cherry Orchard"

I went to a very interesting talk a few weeks ago by James Loehlin of U.T. Austin. The talk was called "Stanislavsky Has Ruined My Play," which is what Chekhov said about the Moscow Art Theater's extremely realistic and lugubrious presentation of The Cherry Orchard. But Chekhov meant it to be a comedy. The ensuing performance history of this play is a battle between humorous (usually more absurdist) and tragic (realistic) stagings. Because Stanislavsky's version was so widely seen, it's had the strongest influence on all subsequent performances--which is why, if you've seen the play or the film (I'm thinking of the recent one by Michael Cacoyannis) you've most likely seen an elegeic and depressingly boring story. But if you play up the humor, as Stanford's Drama Department's version did, and take up the invitation to absurdity, the play is fascinating. It still has very sad moments, and you feel these more because they are not mired in constant weeping and staring out of windows.

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