Vsevolod Meyerhold preparing for his role as Konstantin in Chekhov’s The Seagull (via Idea | The Seagull’s Two Premieres | Headlong)
zforzelma asked: Hi! More Cherry Orchard.
It's true that Lopakhin never explicitly says that he loves Varya, but the question of whether he does or not then becomes the actor's job to answer. I could just leave it at that and say that it's therefore not even worth discussing in a literary analysis of the play but really I think that viewing it from an actor's perspective can help.
The major question you have to consider when looking at it this way is: which choice will make for a more interesting performance?
I *certainly* agree that playing Lopakhin like he's in love with her, but too clumsy to propose would be a lazy and uninteresting performance to watch.
I also think that the opposite extreme would be equally repellent - that he's merely playing with her emotions as a representative of the upper class that oppressed him as a child.
well, maybe not equally repellent, this would be a little more interesting than the first one in performance. However, to quote you this also "doesn’t really do justice to the depth and layers with which Chekhov works."
His characters are amazingly multi-layered and wonderfully human. That's why I think the strongest (but not the only) answer lies not out on the neat ironed edges, but jumbled up in the middle.
He loves her, but she represents something repellant to him. He doesn't want to hurt her, but loves to watch her squirm. He wants to marry her, but he doesn't want to be tied forever to this family that has always help him in its power.
*That* would be an interesting way to play it. Love, but too much other crap in the way to let it flourish. They're representatives of different eras in Russia's history. Lopakhin knows this. But there's no conflict if he doesn't love her.
Precisely. And I’m all for actors and directors answering dramatic questions - not critics. Critics are good for autopsies.
The production I was talking about chose to answer these questions by removing Lopakhin’s presumed love for Varya, presenting it as something that other characters discuss and assume but that is actually not there. They played it as a classic set-up situation, you know, a blind date type thing - your friends think you and this guy would be great together so why don’t you go out sometime, then you fall for the guy, and he doesn’t, but he has to keep pretending because it’s gone too far. Horribly painful for Varya, but acceptable for the most cynical and business-like sides of Lopakhin.
They then chose to work with some other questions regarding Lopakhin and Ranevskaya, which brought out this terrific subtext about his possible love for her rather than Varya- and their scenes were played very much to this tune, underpinned by his inability to confess to her (this woman he loathes and adores at the same time) that he loves her.
I’m totally intrigued by the potential sadism you see in Lopakhin - it puts the Hamlet quotation in a very interesting light.
Are you an actor yourself? Thank you so much for your point of view, I’ve really enjoyed thinking about this. Heck, it’s making me want to go back to directing.
polvosederia asked: hey lopakhin loves varya, not ranevskaya, he only remembered that she was kind with him or it was first love.
Subtext. Subtext. Subtext.
My point is that it may not be said explicitly, but subtextually it is all there; many productions play it that way (including the one I wrote about). If you think of it, it makes a lot of sense. He is torn between the past and the future just as much as every other character in the play: the memory of his fondness for Ranyevskaya as a child/young man, and his desire to disenfranchise himself from any kind of bond to her, her family and her estate.
The actor playing him in this production was almost the same age as Ranyevskaya, something which for me strengthened the sense that he had been desperately in love with her (or with an embellished, idealised memory of her) for a long, long time.
Besides, nothing in the play (at least in the English language translations of it with which I am familiar) indicates that he is indeed in love with Varya, only that everybody is pushing him to propose to her (who, on the other hand, clearly loves him). Do you have any evidence to the contrary in the original script?
In 1892 the editor of a literary journal which was to publish some of Chekhov’s short stories asked him to send in a short autobiography to accompany his photograph. Chekhov was always reluctant to write about himself in public, so he sent this note:
Do you need my biography? Here it is. In 1860 I was born in Taganrog. In 1879 I finished my studies in the medical school of Moscow University. In 1888 I received the Pushkin Prize. In 1890 I made a trip to Sakhalin across Siberia and back by sea. In 1891 I toured Europe, where I drank splendid wine and ate oysters. In 1892 I strolled with V.A. Tikhonov at [the writer Shcheglov’s] name day party. I began to write in 1879 in Strekosa. My collections of stories are Motley Stories, Twilight, Stories, Gloomy People, and the novella The Duel. I have also sinned in the realm of drama, although moderately. I have been translated into all languages with the exception of the foreign ones. However, I was translated into German quite a while ago. The Czechs and Serbs also approve of me. And the French also relate to me. I grasped the secrets of love at the age of thirteen. I remain on excellent terms with friends, both physicians and writers. I am a bachelor. I would like a pension. I busy myself with medicine to such an extent that this summer I am going to perform some autopsies, something I have not done for two or three years. Among writers I prefer Tolstoy, among physicians Zakharin. However, this is all rubbish. Write what you want. If there are no facts, substitute something lyrical.
Quoted by Janet Malcolm, in “Travels With Chekhov,” The New Yorker, February 21, 2000, p. 242
J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey (Buddy Glass’ letter to Zooey 3.5)
I went to see The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre last night and remembered these words. The production was competent, smart, energetic; it was genuinely funny and very enjoyable, but yet something of the balance Chekhov carefully wrote into it was lost.
Many critics had trouble with Andrew Upton’s translation, which updated the language of the play with some modern expressions and phrasing, particularly in Lopakhin’s dialogue. Not my problem, I have to say I thought that worked quite well: Lopakhin represents a practical, necessary, somewhat crass future that leaves no space for the flourishing language of well-educated aristocrats like Ranyevskaya or hopeless intellectuals like Trofimov. Lopakhin’s business-like manner and reduced vocabulary inevitably failed him when it came to discuss his feelings, and were accountable for both his inability to propose to Varya (whom he doesn’t love) and to confess his atrocious, unrequited love to Ranyevskaya.
Chekhov weaves into the play a very subtle, delicate, painful conflict between Lopakhin’s desire for social ascent (his grandfather was a serf, his father was a servant, and now he gets to own the estate!) and his emotional attachment to the estate and its people (embodied in the Countess, whom he calls his “mistress”). But more than half of what Lopakhin’s character is about is deliberately subtextual, and must be questioned in production: why does he buy the cherry orchard? Was it a scheme from the start? Is it a grand gesture to gain Ranyevskaya’s love? Does he know that she is intending to return to Paris anyway? Does he deliberately lead Varya on to believe he is interested in her? What is it in him that she loves? Howard Davis’ production made great use of Chekhov’s written humour, but slightly missed his great unwritten depth of emotion. It’s bizarre because usually British productions of Chekhov fail the other way round - too much melancholy and gloom and not enough comedy.
In thinking about this I was also reminded of a great lesson in balancing dramatic swings I once got from watching Mark Rylance play Cleopatra - not his best role and a questionable project in many ways, but he pointed out to me how, before a great tragic moment such as the death of Antony in Cleopatra’s arms, Shakespeare writes in some rather farcical stuff - the bearing of Antony’s body aloft to the monument, and Cleopatra’s line “how heavy weighs my lord!” It is the juxtaposition of the ridiculous and the sublime, if you will, or simply of comedy and tragedy, that generates drama or emotion, the thing that literally moves the spectator.
Chekhov writes high comedy but doesn’t write high tragedy. The comedy is outlined in great detail in his stage directions and dialogues to be rough, loud and visual; on the other hand, the tragedy in his characters’ lives is always subdued, simmering under the surface, and therefore the balancing act is more difficult to pull through. But all the material is there for an actor to juggle, and when it does work (and I have seen it work, particularly in Russian productions) its power is devastating.
A written play is only the tip of an iceberg, really it should be a user’s manual, a guide to an unfamiliar place, but it is not the whole picture. So while some of Chekhov’s plays are practically perfect from a dramaturgical point of view, his great talent as a dramatist can only be put to its intended purpose when it is lifted from the page and onto the stage. We keep going back to watch his plays in the hope that the potential of the page is realised, that its beauty explodes like the cherries in bloom.
Maybe like Zooey I demand too much from art, from theatre in particular. Maybe it’s why I had to get out.