GAYEV: “‘Dear old bookcase! Wonderful old bookcase! I rejoice in your existence. For a hundred years now you have borne the shining ideals of goodness and justice, a hundred years have not dimmed your silent summons to useful labor. To generations of our family (almost in tears) you have offered courage, a belief in a better future, you have instructed us in ideals of goodness and social awareness….’
A wild idea occurred to me as I made my way through Chekhov’s plays this spring. If I asked nicely, would my friends agree to stage some modern tableaux vivants from Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard? I had been thinking about how silence and stillness work in these plays, and how humor and misunderstanding creep into moments of deliberate pause in these plays. I wanted to study these moments in the paused, familiar faces of my friends in the roles of Chekhov’s most familiar characters. This is the sort of idea that appears lucid in a dream, that most sensible people dismiss after waking.
Louis Malle and Andre Gregory’s brilliant adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Vanya on 42nd Street, begins on the street. A group of actors converge early in the morning, sip coffee from styrofoam cups, and make their way to rehearsal in a dim theater. Once inside, a groggy Wallace Shawn reclines on a bench and closes his eyes for a nap. Around him, Shawn’s fellow actors chatter nonchalantly, their backstage voices easing into Chekhov’s words.