In 1904, as Anton Chekhov died,
a butterfly landed on his bed and a champagne bottle blew its cork.
Just months earlier Chekhov had watched The Moscow Art Theatre perform
his last play, The Cherry Orchard. Now, one hundred years
later, we tip a glass to that auspicious year and explore its butterfly
effect on our century with Chekhov's Wild Ride.
Terrorist bombings; a conservative government suspicious of all dissenting voices to the point of violence and repression; widespread social and political upheaval brought about by the freeing of an entire class of indentured serfs: 1904 Russia was ripe for revolution. For theatre, the spark would come in the form of the realistic performances of the plays of Anton Chekhov put on by the Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Constantin Stanislavsky. The action-based acting system he was developing would eventually inspire Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford to found the Group Theatre, and Strasberg's emphasis on emotion over action would cause a split with Stanislavsky and result in the most famous American acting style of the twentieth century: The Method.
Meanwhile, Maxim Gorky, leader of the Russian intelligentsia, was on his way to America to raise financial and political support for a velvet overthrow of the Tsar, accompanied by Maria Andreyeva, an actress from the very same Moscow Art Theatre. The American media's scandalization of the extramarital nature of their relationship would create a backlash that sabotaged Gorky's efforts and set the stage for a more successful and violent uprising: the Soviet Revolution.
Stanislavsky's American disciples
would be caught up in the subsequent political paranoia. Purportedly
established to root out Communism within the American government,
the House Un-American Activities Committee seemed more intent on
thwarting any attempts to organize the working class. Among its
many targets: Elia Kazan, who would rat out his friends and go on
to write On the Waterfront; Arthur Miller, whose experience
would result in his play The Crucible; Clifford Odets, author
of Waiting for Lefty; Hallie Flanagan, the director of the
WPA's Federal Theater Project and the first woman to receive a Guggenheim
Fellowship; and Paul Robeson, whose testimony before the committee
was perhaps one of his most important performances.
We begin our wild ride through the repercussions of fin de siècle Russia with Act I of the play that so perfectly captured the tenor of the era and presaged the coming revolutions: Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard.
Randels, J Hammons,
Chris Lane, Maritza Mercado-Narcisse, Cecile Monteyne, Nick Slie
and Rusty Tennant collaborated on the creation and performance of
this piece of contemporary theatre with Jean-Xavier Brager and Ellen
Macomber (costumes), Amy Reuben (lights), Dion van Niekerk (sets),
Beau Harrison (video), and Ben Schenck (music). Sean LaRocca composed additional music and played piano, with Eloise Chopin on cello and Shayna Bey on violin.
The piece was re-worked and re-mounted for our tenth anniversary Artistic Ancestry festival, with Bruce France replacing Rusty Tennant, new set design by Jeff Becker, new video design Denny Juge, Hellen Gillet on cello and Daron Douglas on violin.