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 tragedy.”

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. 

Indeed, 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.

 

 It 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 trunk.

 

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. 

 

GAEV

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!

RANEVSKAYA

                                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!

                                                                                                                  V. Ulea