Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Cherry Orchard has been quiet lately, mainly because I’ve been occupied with an emergency technical redesign of my other blog.

Given that Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard is my current literary obsession, I thought it might be an appropriate focus for the penproximate (I just made that word up, but hey, it's a good word) entry of my new literary blog, which, incidentally, is named for the words of Lopakhin himself, in the opening moments of Act I. "I was reading this book and understood nothing. I read and I fell asleep."

I have never read anything like the Cherry Orchard. It was radical for its time, and it was radical for me, too. I'd already read, and fortunately studied, some of Chekhov short stories beforehand, so I was prepared, and I enjoyed it from the outset. Nonetheless, it improved (if this were even possible) with further study. I then plunged into a deep, platonic love affair from which I have yet to emerge.

Chekhov's a bit of a legend, if you ask me. According to my hastily scrawled notes, Chekhov disapproved heartily of didacticism, aiming not to teach, but instead to 'hold the mirror up to society', as my English teacher is so fond of saying. He wanted to cause the audience to reflect upon their own lives. The play is peppered with pauses and empty sets, forcing the audience to fill the vacuum with their own conclusions. At one stage, hilariously, one of the characters says "You shouldn't go to plays but look more often at yourselves." This cracks me up.

It's simultaneously hilarious and tragic, which is pretty cool. I find it hard to pin down exactly why I love it so much, and even harder to understand why no one else seems to share my opinion. It's something about how every character is portrayed "warts and all" - another oft quoted English-teacherism - or, as I prefer to put it, with all their quirks and foibles. They are both infuriating and lovable. They encompass all of life. "[They] talk well, with feeling, only you can't understand." (Act I)

It's telling that one of the most oft-written about things in literature is the snapping string of the Cherry Orchard. For me, it sums up the play. I don't know what it means, exactly, I don't know what on earth Chekhov was trying to say - it could have been any number of things - but I how sad it is. I feel what the characters do when they hear it. And this is it. Chekhov trusts that the audience will feel whatever is appropriate, even if they don't understand really the point. He places a sort of confidence in his audience that I had never seen before, or have seen since. I feel honoured to be so trusted.

I'm not feeling very eloquent tonight, I'm afraid. I'm talking well (or at least without too many spelling mistakes), with feeling, only you can't understand.

Just see the fucking play, ok?

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