Jan 8, 2014

Chekhov for Dummies

I'm going to sum up Chekhov in a very reductionist way in this post.

No, this is not the be all, end all guide to Chekhov. Yes, the plays of Chekhov are great, critically claimed works of art and yes, my snarky drama student side is showing. But if you want to get a very basic gist of Chekhov (as compared to Shakespeare or any other great playwright) here's a rough sketch.

It's depressing.

Supposedly some of his plays are comedies. Lord knows I can't tell the comedies and tragedies apart, however. Maybe the comedies are the ones where they all end up depressed, but don't commit suicide, and the tragedies are the ones where they die? Or vice-versa?

there are two kinds of people in this world and i don't like them  Grumpy Cat

Not sure. Either way, no one's really happy in these plays. Also, no one likes anyone else (or, if they do, only as part of a really awkward love triangle/octagon).

There's a lot of social commentary.

A lot of the social commentary is relevant to the time and the location - aka: a long, long time ago in Russia. The class struggles and arrogant betches/angsty philosophy student archetypal characters still ring true, however.

From Downtown Abbey. Because it's awesome.
It's amazing how little changes over time and space!

Women aren't ignored.

I'm impressed by the fact that Chekhov manages to write women and to write women well, rather than just falling back on a few stereotypical examples void of any real character complexity.

Have I mentioned how awesome Maggie Smith is? Just love her facial expressions and movements!
He does a better job of writing women than a lot of writers in Hollywood!

Chekhov liked to booze.

Seriously. His characters drink more alcohol than college undergraduates on a Saturday night. And trust me - as one of the few sober people on a Saturday night, I am well aware of how much undergraduates drink. Their poor livers! Thank God most of my friends can't drive (city kid problems).

Poetry in Motion
Trust me, your work doesn't get better when you drink - you just don't notice that it stinks. Not an improvement.
Or maybe it's the opposite. Maybe he didn't drink and was shocked by how much his peers did. Who knows? I think he liked to booze.

Money can't buy happiness.

A lot of Chekhov's protagonists are loaded. Either by birth (often) or as the result of education (funny how that used to be a thing), they have money and mansions and servants and killer wardrobes.

I assume the last. I mean, why would you spend money on a maid before you spent money on Mischka Badgley and Jimmy Choos? Logic, people, logic.

Anna Friel as Yelena in Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre
Anna Friel as Yelena in Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theater
Anyway, his super rich protagonists are usually super unfulfilled and unhappy. They're rarely positioned as role models or aspirational types, but rather as people we can sympathize (or empathize) with. Let's be real, it's probably easier to be happy with money than without - but money isn't sufficient in modern day America and it wasn't sufficient in Chekhov-day Russia.

Chekhov is pretty deep stuff, I suppose. Or not.

Have you read Chekhov?

Do you enjoy theater?

Who is your favorite playwright?

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