Chekhov was displeased and dissatisfied with
Stanislavsky’s way of staging his plays as dramas. He insisted that he
created pure comedies. In fact, he subtitled The Seagull as comedy, he
insisted that his Three Sisters were written as a vaudeville, and his
Cherry Orchard was defined as farce.
No one was able to accept fully the definition of
his dramatic works, though. The Seagull failed because the audience
came to see something funny, a comedy in a traditional sense, but,
instead, it had to watch a sad story that ended with the suicide of
its main character. After the fiasco Chekhov swore not to write plays
again. He didn’t keep his word, though. But the subtitle of his next
play, Uncle Vanya, didn’t include the definition of genre. Still, a
humorous tone was set but subtitling the play as “scenes from the
country life.” Three Sisters was completely rejected as vaudeville by
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko who, presumably, edited the
subtitle, changing it from “comedy” to “drama.” Finally, about The
Cherry Orchard Stanislavsky wrote: “I was crying like a woman; I
wanted to restrain myself but I could not. I hear you saying to me:
‘Excuse me, but this is just farce.’ No, for a simple person this is a
A simple person… It seems that this would be a
perfect explanation of why Chekhov’s plays have suffered the ordeal:
their comedic meaning cannot be revealed to “a simple person.”
“But what is it that the simple person would not
be able to see in Chekhov’s characters,” one may ask. It’s their
potential that is poor and limited.
Chekhov’s characters like to philosophize, they often make right
statements about the nature, about love, they search for the meaning
of life and talk about a bright future. As a student in the past, I
discovered how many professors, leading scholars, and witty
interpreters were trapped by the profound speeches of main Chekhovian
characters and built interpretations on praising the protagonists’
credibility and blaming their environments. Chekhov, however, was
against such an interpretation.
is important to know who is speaking, not only what is being said, and
who is acting in a certain way, not only what kind of action is being
performed. This approach requires an instant switch from behavioral
analysis to the analysis of characters’ potential and predisposition.
Chekhov’s characters are characters of quasi-drama. In the beginning
they may deceive one with their speeches and some qualities not
typical for traditional comic characters. They are not completely
obtuse, but the problem is that their isolated strong qualities cannot
develop because of a weak whole. At this point, the Chekhovian
character can be compared to a tree whose one single branch is
blooming while the trunk is dry. The quasi effect appears because in
accordance with Chekhov’s technique, the branch is shown while the
trunk is hidden, and it is the interpreter’s task to discover the
Generally speaking, comedy is not about laughter but about a limited
potential of characters and their world. Death can be equally
presented in comedy, tragedy, and drama. It does not mean, however,
that in comedy it is supposed to evoke laughter. We may pity a comic
character, but the degree of our emotional involvement would be
different in comparison to that in tragedy or drama. And why is it so?
Because life and death of the comic character have no influence on his
society. Compare to the death of Romeo and Juliet that shocked their
world and made it reconsider its feud. As a result, the society
decided to change their course of development. The comic character has
no such power. Therefore Chekhovian protagonists sink into oblivion
without leaving a trace.
All of them are distinguished by their selfishness and superficiality.
No matter what they say about their love for each other and for their
homeland – they are nothing but destroyers. Take for example Cherry
Orchard. Its owners state that they cannot live without their orchard.
Certainly they love it, but in their own, superficial way. In
actuality, the place becomes a big burden for them. It is too much
responsibility for that irresponsible kind that cannot take care even
for itself. This explains the sudden turn from tears to joy in the end
of the play after the orchard is sold.
Now everything is fine! Before the auction we were worried a lot,
we suffered, but when everything was settled once and for all,
everybody calmed down and became even happier! And you, Lyuba, look
much better, that’s for sure!
Yes. I’m not nervous anymore, that’s true. I sleep well, too.
Such an attitude
is typical for all characters from four plays.
This is meant to
be a comedy in Chekhovian sense – a human comedy, a comedy of
superficial characters that may evoke some sad feelings in a
spectator. We kept Chekhov’s dialogues, though we changed time and
space. The universality of Chekhov’s concept allows us to do so.
Enjoy the movie!