Rose Tuong – On Chekhov in 2017
I’ve been thinking about why I’m inside of a theatre working on Chekhov’s plays and it probably has something to do with the epochal shift in dramatic writing that his work embodies. Goodbye to models of “artificiality”; hello to realist plays that observe and reflect the realness of life in all its stagnancy, humdrum, desperation, humour. Cue Stanislavski with his halo and pioneering acting method (I’d like to have him lowered in by harness to mid-air, centre stage with “Epic” by Faith No More playing in the background. Actually, can he climb out of a giant bundt cake iced with writhing Restoration wigs?).
Dot the i’s of your magic ‘ifs’ and ‘inner objects’, children, for this is bona fide, grounded no-frills acting and it will blow your mind. A hundred-plus years later much of the values of this aesthetic remain prevalent in our theatres and on our screens… so I guess it’s good to know your roots/hunker down with these seminal influences?
In my opinion, canonization isn’t merit enough to stage stuff again and again. But it turns out I didn’t have to look too far for a different reason that Chekhov’s work might matter to me.
The world is kind of nuts right now, no? The word “Trump” summons a maelstrom you hardly need catching up on. The number of ongoing armed conflicts and terrorist incidents in the present and in recent years, months, weeks is hard to grasp when you look at the figures. Brexit and the inauguration of Trump signal a serious shift in global politics. I don’t know why it’s happening or how it’ll affect me or you or them but I have an instinctual sense that things are messed up – not that they weren’t before, but that there’s a veritable paradigm shift happening right now in the world, a grand portentous tipping of the scales. And it feels like it’s going to get messier.
Three Sisters, the play we’re tackling right now, is pregnant with a sense of existential foreboding. Chekhov illustrates this eloquently in his typical miserable/lonely/misunderstood/lovelorn characters – some of them feel it more acutely than others but nonetheless, these Russian aristocrats happen to be social casualties of a confused interim. One of tremendous political change. A failed system. A hasty reform that’s failing to correct their discombobulated society. To me, their anxiety and hopelessness about the future isn’t so far off from what some of us are feeling today.
So the debate between Tuzenbach and Vershinin feels surprisingly familiar and pressing for something written in 1900. Tuzenbach is dispassionately realist, likening humans to birds: “they just fly, fly, fly, and whatever thoughts – big or small – may be going through their minds, they will continue flapping their wings … on and on they will fly, even if some develop a sudden affinity for philosophizing. Let them philosophize all they want, so long as they keep flying.” Life is routine and inevitable and the basic lot of people, wanting as it is and in spite of whatever they achieve, won’t change. History unfolds nothing new! All your excitement and agitation is tantamount to frivolity! Vershinin’s optimism is a cause I’m more willing to champion: “We must work and work … happiness – that will be our gift to our heirs. If not for me, then for my children’s children.”
It’s a dichotomy that’s revealing itself more and more inside my social circles in relation to anti-Trump outpourings and protests. My natural instincts force me to think critically about these times and to define my values and the measures I’ll take to stand by them. So acting in Three Sisters is a strangely complementary outlet to the profound convictions I’m being forced to confront as a young adult in North America right now – especially considering the characters’ largely complacent attitude towards their fortunes and their disappointments. I’d like to think I’m not like them.