“There are two kinds of revolutionary writers: Those who create something new. What’s new gets old. And there are those whose works are one of a kind. Such is Chekhov.”
Angelos Terzakis, greek writer
Chekhov A. (1986), The Seagull – Uncle Vanya – A Marriage Proposal – The Bear, Athens: Dodoni, Translated by: Likourgos Kallergis (Volume I)
This book is the first volume out of the two that are dedicated to Anton Chekhov’s works (1860-1904) and is published by Dodoni publishing house, for their World Theatre series. Two one-act and another two four-act plays, the former from his earliest and the latter from the writer’s more mature writing period, have been collected to give the reader a rounded view of his works. Kallergis’ translation is outstanding, mostly thanks to knowledge he gained during his acting career, since he starred in various theatrical and TV performances of Chekhov’s plays. His introduction is full of factual references and does not touch upon any translation issues, but is ideal for anyone who wants to learn more about the writer’s historical and literary background.
Chekhov recreated Russian theatre, which at the time was in deadlock. He was the first playwright (alongside Ibsen, in Norway) who radically changed playwriting: whilst plays used to revolve around a single incident and had only one or two leads, Chekhov shifted a play’s weigh to a whole troupe, where every single character is equal. By transforming the stage to a small scale society, he engaged into the human nature and studied its fears, wants and weaknesses: “There are no shocking incidents. Apparently we see a normal, everyday life. “This dull, foolish, filthy, Russian provincial life” of the time.” (p.19).
“The Seagull”, Chekhov’s third multiact play, was written in 1895. It was first performed in 1896 at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in Petersburg, a performance that was a total failure! Despite of the talented troupe, the actors failed to understand how they should pronounce their words and the play received negative criticism, resulting to Chekhov’s great disappointment. Stanislavsky went to a lot of trouble to persuade Chekhov to let him redirect “The Seagull” for the Moscow Art Theatre. Fortunately he took permission and directed a triumphant performance, which established Chekhov once and forever as a colossal playwright.
In a Russian provincial farm we see people from different social backgrounds: an actress that used to be very famous, a young writer full of innovative ideas that no one seems to understand, a very successful writer and a young girl whose dream is to become an actress are some of the play’s characters. Unfulfilled love stories, existential and social concerns create a medley of “a lot of literary talks, a little action and five tons of love” according to Chekhov himself.
The play is available on line here.