Friday, November 6, 2009
What is this quiet exhilaration I feel in the presence of Chekhov? Especially when the piece is as well played as this one?
For opening night at the Blue Theatre many of the seats were taken by young persons who might well have been undergraduates. Directly opposite me, across the three-quarter thrust of the playing space, one or two had spiral notebooks and pencils in hand.
I cannot recall if the vision of this end-of-the-19th-century Russian physician and author moved me so much at their age. Perhaps I was impressed principally by the exotic setting; the great but impoverished families of the Russian countryside were certainly alien to me. I probably liked the foolishness of some of the characters and admired Chekhov's women, who are simultaneously fragile and enduring.
But at university age I probably had a good deal of the unselfconscious arrogance that Mme Ranyevskaya so simply reproaches of Peter Trofimov, the eternal student who six years earlier was tutor to her son Grisha, before the boy drowned in the river:
"What truth? You can see what's true or untrue, but I seem to have lost my sight, I see nothing. You solve the most serious problems so confidently, but tell me, dear boy, isn't that because you're young -- not old enough for any of your problems to have caused you real suffering? You face the future so bravely, but then you can't imagine anything terrible happening, can you? And isn't that because you're still too young to see what life's really like?"
Now, several decades later, I am amused, perhaps a bit dismayed, to find myself resembling more closely Mme Ranyevskaya's brother Leonid Gaev, played by Ev Lunning, Jr. He's an idle but well-meaning billiards enthusiast easily tempted to pontificate over the trivial, including, for example, the hundred-year anniversary of the cabinet in the nursery. At least Leonid Gaev has the good sense to feel abashed when his nieces beg him, "Oh, do please, stop, Uncle!"
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