I've decided that, much like the glass of Chardonnay that I nursed through much of the first act, in order to truly appreciate Chekhov, one has to be properly aged.
Or maybe it's just that I've never seen a first-rate production of a Chekhov play. If that's the case, however, I did tonight, and it made all the difference. Truth be told, I haven't seen a first-rate production of anything at Trinity Rep in Providence since a production of The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard, many years ago, back when I worked in its Public Relations department. That play blew my mind, with its shifting perspectives, and the way it slowly unfolded in a complex manner a simple heartfelt declaration of love. Unfortunately, since then, most of the productions I've seen there have been polite and well meaning, and have left me frustrated and grouchy. Not tonight.
This production was the maiden voyage for a new artistic director for the group, and as such, his choice of subject matter, The Cherry Orchard, was a perfect one. Change or die, is this play's message. Master your reality, take charge of your fate, or it will eventually take charge of you.
I'm not going to turn this entry into a college level critique of a play by some dead Russian guy. But death's just the point: truly effective art affords a playwright the luxury of an eternal springtime of ideas and thoughts and emotions. These never die. They just fade slightly as one curtain descends, only to linger in the mind and heart, and come back to life, once again, when a steady hand and a combination of talents bid the artist's vision to come forth, ever eternal, and reclaim another moment in time.
What tonight's production allowed me to do, was to feel; feel the fabric of the reality of the characters I was watching onstage, at the same time that I considered how this same thread had woven its way through the fabric of my own personal experience.
Change or die. "That was a comedy?" Corb asked as we left the theater.
"It's a Russian's idea of a comedy," I said, glibly. But truth be told, it was a comedy, and a tragedy, at the same time. A tragedy in the classical sense of a fall from grace, of people in high places reduced to low means, and yet a comedy, if one considers that these characters in the main hide their personal loss under a mask of good humor and eternal optimism. No wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth, here. Only occasionally do they let the cracks that exist underneath the surface show.
The play almost ends on an upbeat note, everyone leaving to pursue a brighter future. But what does that future hold? Tonight I realized that this play provides the viewer with a clear indication of what fate has in store for its characters. Those who have the will to embrace change will thrive: Lopakin, Semyonov-Pischik, even Trofimov. Those who allow fate to control them surely face less-than-certain futures. Silly foppish Leonid will never make it as a banker, just as his sister will return to Paris and squander away the last remaining bits of her fortune. And finally, as if to validate this conclusion, the play ends by sealing the fate, literally, of the one character who has steadfastly refused to embrace change her entire life.
Under this director's sure hand, the link between Chekhov's vision of a fading Russian upper class, and Tennessee William's vision of the decaying remnants of a once-thriving class of Southern plantation owners has never been clearer to me.
But as I said, what impressed me most is that this production, of a play I've seen and read several times before, made me think, tonight, about my own life, in a way that I don't, typically.
Change or die, for me? As a first-born, I struggled valiantly against change most of my life, never wanting anything more than the status quo. But these past five years have involved quite a bit of change, quite a bit of fear about the future, quite a number of nights spent wide awake and wondering where the hell the next six months would take me.
Change or die? Like the main character, I've spent way too much time focusing on the pretty memories of the past, and not enough time taking an honest look at where I need to be. But when forced to take a look, when forced to change...or die...I chose life. I chose moving forward. I decided to adjust.
Corb found the message depressing. Somehow, I found it strangely uplifting. What accounts for the difference? Maybe it's just that my grapes have been fermenting in my cellar longer than his.