My first experience with Chekov was reading “Ivanov,” his first full-length, complete play, while I was at a theater program at Boston University the summer before my senior year of high school. I was to learn Sasha’s monologue and perform it for my acting class. This monologue just so happened to be Sasha’s complaints about how bored she was with life, with the people in her life, and with everything. And I, Lydia the actress, could identify completely because I was so bored out of my mind with Sasha’s monologue. I didn’t realize this connection till a week or so after I had begun working on the text, but suddenly everything became clear; Chekhov writes normal life, normal struggles, universal little things that are big things when they actually happen to us. His is the drama of life, ordinary as it may be.
Being in Russia and studying Chekhov is one of the most incredible opportunities I could ever imagine. I have seen about five shows at the same theater where all of Chekhov’s plays were produced, and I have seen the set designs and the chairs that were used. I am taking classes on the same street where Stanislavsky and Nemirovich Danchenko argued about whether or not to even produce “The Seagull” in the first place. It had been a catastrophe in St. Petersburg. Stan said no, N.M. said yes, and finally Stan fell in love with the play, and it revolutionized theater as we know it. To this day, the emblem on the MXAT curtain is a seagull. A seagull also marks the door into the theater. And I walk past that seagull everyday. Woah. It’s like my own life is just as dramatic as Chekhov’s plays within the ordinary routine of it all.
We discussed with our teachers a few weeks ago about why we like or don’t like Chekhov, and for the most part all of us students said something about loving how universal his characters and their struggles are. People dream, love, eat, sleep, walk, cry, laugh, live and die and worlds collide. As my teacher Sasha said, “Life is sad and tragic, but what’s the sense to cry? Let’s laugh about our tragedy.” That is how Chekhov gets away with calling his plays comedies when they seem so tragic in our eyes. It is the comedy of the human tragedy, the comedy of how much everything means when ultimately it ends in death. So let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Perhaps I would add to Chekhov’s vision of the world the notion of God. Chekhov was an atheist, and so he saw life as ever drawing near the point of completion. I see life as ever drawing near the point of fulfillment. Yes, life is tragic and we can laugh at the tragedy, but we can also rejoice in the beauty, because it points us to something more, something deeper. I believe that Chekhov was searching for that something more, but he could not believe in God. He chose not to. I laugh and love not because it doesn’t mean anything, but because it means everything.
I wish Chekhov and I could sit down and have a chat over tea. But I suppose I will simply have to study his plays, see his perspective, delight in the brilliance of his writing, and add my other-worldly perspective to the universality of his characters. That sounds weird re-reading through it. Oh well, I can’t get my thoughts straight. There is too much to think about.
Chekhov. Boom. Point world.
My teacher Oleg said that his first impression of Chekhov was, “It is impossible for anyone to know me as well as he does.” I know what he means. Chekhov understood people, all different kinds of people, and he wrote them into his stories and his plays. I feel close to Chekhov’s characters too. And I think I could say the same of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – it is impossible for a writer to know me as well as they do. Narnia and Middle Earth are where my heart belongs! But in the end, I cannot deny that Oleg’s statement makes me think of who knows me better than anyone else in the world. It’s God. It is impossible, or it seems impossible for anyone to know me as well as He does. In my epic-ness; in my desire for adventure and for a role to play in the grand battle of good and evil; in my longing to be romanced, loved and cherished; in my desire to love the world and its people with all that I am. He knows me.
I can’t shake the notion that it’s all connected.