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Amid growing inequality, Chekhov’s message resonates

Lura Dolas, senior lecturer, acting | October 19, 2015

Our work together as cast, crew and designers — developing our upcoming Theater, Dance and Performance Studies production — has led us all to a deeper understanding of why The Cherry Orchard, written and set in Russia in 1904, has so often been called “timeless” and “universal.”

One need only scratch the surface of the play to appreciate its resonances in our own times:

  • dispossessed people living amidst great wealth
  • an ever-widening income gap; industrial deforestation
  • unaffordable social services
  • traditions sacrificed for “success” and “profits”
  • artists’ efforts unrewarded
  • a moneyed class pursuing wasteful ends
  • university-spawned “intellectuals” who balk at attempting to impact the world they criticize.

We’ve been amazed and delighted as we’ve explored how, through these sadly constant conditions, playwright Anton Chekhov weaves vital ingredients of life and great drama in any age: love, loss, hope, fear, denial and resignation.

poster

Production poster for “The Cherry Orchard,” which plays Oct. 23-Nov. 1, 2015.

We’ve been moved by the play’s sense of the inevitability of time: the ways in which the past haunts the future, and the ironic and gentle manner in which Chekhov presents interactions that define the course of our lives, even as he hints at the supernatural and reaches for a dramatic form beyond the realism of his day.

We’ve been challenged and inspired to explore the depth of the characters Chekhov has given us. A wise acting teacher once told me, “Life is need in action.” Chekhov asks us to consider what each character needs — from others and from life.

How are those needs shaped by upbringing? By setting and society and time? By gender and status? How do the characters try to meet their needs? At what points do they employ masks to protect themselves? When those masks fall away, exposing them, what does each cling to?

The story is told that at the moment of Chekhov’s death, a cork blew off a previously opened bottle of champagne, and a moth trapped in the folds of a curtain flew free.

I think that each time The Cherry Orchard is performed, Chekhov’s genius is released anew into whatever time, whatever world, exists outside the theater. And thus his watchful ghost continues to remind us of our shared humanity and our place in the flow of time.

This piece is taken from director’s notes written by Lura Dulas, director of the TDPS production of The Cherry Orchard, Oct. 23 – Nov. 1, 2015 at Zellerbach Playhouse. More information is available online.

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