I happened to notice this post on American Theatre‘s Facebook feed on a day when I was reading your posts reflecting on your experiences of the audience at the show. You all should consider submitting your responses on their page!
I take the title of this post from Ben Gassman’s January 2013 article in American Theatre titled “Knocking Chekhov for a Loop,” in which he examines the resurgence of Chekhovian tones, themes and characters in new work from American women playwrights who, as he quotes Kristen Kosmas, “don’t traffic in realism.” I’ve put the full article on the course materials page, but I wanted to draw your attention to two quotes as we look ahead to tonight’s discussion of Chekhov in the late 20th/early 21st centuries and we consider the workshop process with Kali and how to carry that work further into the next stages of blocking and text-centric rehearsal.
Chekhov’s characters don’t respond to each other–they struggle to say what they mean and aren’t quite able to. Nor do they listen. They reach for each other or verbally push each other away. They trip over their words. They get stuck between themselves and the possibilities beyond themselves. The conversational veritas and communicative disintegration that Baker emphasizes with her students [at NYU] is essential to her own Vanya and also galvanizes the current new works by Satter [Seagull (Thinking of you) with Half Straddle Theater] and Kosmas [There there].
Because Kosmas is fearlessly intuitive as a writer, and lullingly defiant as a performer, we are never quite sure where Karen’s [the protagonist of There there] mind will lead us. She says things we can’t allow ourselves to say. [Suzie] Sokol‘s Arkadina from Seagull (Thinking of You) puts this sense of indirection and equivocation another way: “I just don’t know what I actually want, or, I’m not going to admit it in a super real way.” Which is the kind of double-speak that could use an irreverent translator. My attempt: ‘I think I might want this, and I’m trying as hard as I can to be clear about it.’ What’s more Chekhovian than that?
In my research, I found an amazing American Theater piece from March of 2005 curated by Todd London (Artistic Director of New Dramatists) who has interviewed Andre Gregory over the course of some years. The piece is titled “Gregory on the Non-Making of Uncle Vanya.” I’ve referenced another portion of Gregory’s “non-making” in another post and I’ll post the full text of London’s article on our Course Materials page, but I wanted to quote just a smidge here on the open blog. It’s part of a conversation Gregory had with Ruth Nelson the original actress to play Marina in the rehearsal/staged version of their Vanya (Phoebe Snow plays Marina in the film) before she died in 1992 (a death that came on the heels of a stroke she suffered the night before the Vanya stage performance’s last run-through). As you will read in the full article, much of the process of gathering the group of actors for the Vanya that we see in the movie was tinged with loss and many examples of the fragility and fleeting nature of existence but the insistence to create even (especially?) in the face of mortality.
Ruth Nelson said something amazing when I went to visit her a few days before she died. I said to her ‘Are you afraid, Ruth?’ And she said, ‘No. Dying is like our work. You just go moment to moment, and you don’t think of the end.’ “
Not only did it just choke me up immediately upon reading it, I found it an interesting contrast/compliement to Sonya’s final words about the rest and peace from toil that comes with death.