Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Three Sisters: Rehearsal Journal

Running through Act I. Olga (Megan Grassl) describes her dream of returning to Moscow.
Working Through
I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I have been lax on my rehearsal blogging this time around . . . very uncharacteristic of me! My only real excuse is the force with which we have jumped into this production and the amount of time we all spend as a cast and crew piecing it together.

At this point, the show is blocked and, I'm delighted to say, that the cast has been great about getting "off book" so that we can really delve into the characters and craft the more intimate moments and subtle changes that occur between the Prozorovs and their friends. The further I get into this process and the more I get to know of these characters, the more impressed I am with Chekhov's ability to explore the best and worst of human nature . . . and always with a sense of humor.

The Prozorovs are not unlike any of us, even though the family "lives" in 1900 (and in our production 1910). The relationship between the sisters - the way they look to each other for support, the way they get irritated with each other, the way they team up together to tease their brother is a sensitive exploration of family dynamic. Outside the play's familial relationships are the unrequited desires each character has. They obsess over the impossible, so much that it disrupts any possibility of happiness and peace. Nearly everyone in the play has a difficult time accepting reality and, interesting enough, the more educated and intelligent a character is, the more likely he or she is to philosophize themselves into misery.

Andrei (Michael Beaton) and Ferapont (Calvin Ward) in a brief philosophical discussion of life and pancakes.
Making little discoveries about characters is always a pleasure for me, but the further I get into this, the more issues of crafting detail pop up. One of the biggest challenges I'm running into is keeping the momentum of the play going in sections with multiple characters and plot lines going on. Typical of Chekhov, one group of characters will be interacting on one part of the stage while another group is sharing a different experience on another. How do you put this all together in a way where the scenes don't distract from each other? Very carefully, I'm discovering. Working through the larger scenes has been slow going, but productive. 

Chebutykin (Rick Wallace) and Irina (Richelle Jean-Bart) share a moment.
Last night we ran through Act I off book for the first time, a big step. And a revealing step. The elements for those section are in place and some pieces were working together very smoothly. Others are rough. It's to be expected at this stage in the game. Pace is going to be a big factor in this show (as with all shows) as well as blending the dual scenes. We'll get there. Little by little! (And eventually everyone will be pronouncing all the names correctly.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Three Sisters: References and Glossary

ALEKO: The hero of the romantic verse tale “The Gypsies” by Pushkin. Aleko becomes disillusioned with Russian civilization and goes off to live amongst the gypsies. He falls in love with a gypsy girl and commits a murder out of jealousy.

TUSENBACH: What’s Aleko got to do with it? (150)

ALUM: A chemical compound and a class of compounds. Likely Chebutykin’s referenced is to potassium alum – the chemical compound for his hair tonic recipe.

CHEBUTYKIN: Now, as I was saying, you cork the bottle and stick a glass tube through the cork . . . Then you take a pinch of alum – plain ordinary alum . . . (122).

AMO, AMAS, AMAT; AMAMUS, AMATIS, AMANT: The basic Latin conjugations of the verb amare, to love. “I love, thou lovest, he, she, or it loves, we love, you love, they love.”

KULYGIN: I’ll be off in a minute . . . What a fine, wonderful wife I have . . . And oh, how I love you, you and you alone . . .

MASHA: Amo, amas, amat; amamus, amatis, amant (165).

BALZAC WAS MARRIED IN BERDICHEV: The French novelist Honoré de Balzac was married to Ewelyna Hanska in Berdichev several months before he died in 1850.

CHEBUTYKIN: Balzac was married in Berdichev (146).

CHEKHARTMA: Tusenbach mis-speaks, it’s correctly “chikhartma,” a Caucasian soup of lamb or chicken flavored with coriander and saffron.

TUSENBAH: And the food they served was authentic Caucasian: an onion soup and chekhartma for the meat course (150).

CHEREMSHA: A sharp-edged leek or form of wild garlic.

SOLYONY: Cheremsha isn’t meat; it’s a plant in the onion family (150).

DARK VODKA: A colored vodka distilled with an herbal extract called catechu to make its distinct hue. Clear vodkas generally have little flavor while dark vodkas tend to bear notes of berry, citrus, or other spices.

VERSHININ: I think I’ll have some of that dark vodka . . . (134).

GERMAN STREET: A street in the German Quarter in the northeast of Moscow. The district began to be inhabited by European immigrants in the mid-16th century who the Russians referred to collectively as “Germans.” After the fire in 1812, most residents left, properties changed hands, and it become inhabited by merchants and craftsmen.

VERSHININ: And German Street for a time. I would walk from there to the Red Barracks.

NIKOLAI GOGOL: A 19th century Russian dramatist, novelist, and short story writer. He was a contributor to the development of Russian naturalism and realism. His writings were essentially observations of real life. His most influential works include Dead Souls and The Government Inspector. Chekhov quotes Gogol extensively in The Seagull.

Masha quotes from the last sentence of “Story of How Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich Fell Out” (1832)

MASHA: As Gogol said, “Life on earth’s an awful bore, my friends.”

A GREEN OAK STANDS: Masha recites lines from the Alexander Pushkin 1820 long poem Ruslan and Lyudmila. The poem is an epic fairy tale of the abduction of the daughter of a prince by an evil wizard and the attempt a brave knight makes to rescue her.

Pushkin was born into the Russian nobility in Moscow in 1799. His work is characteristic of Russian Romantic literature. In his short life he was quite prolific leaving behind examples of lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, short stories, drama, and personal letters. He is sometimes considered the “Father of Modern Russian Literature.” He was fatally wounded in a dual in 1837.

His dark, passionate, and introspective style fits in with Masha’s moodiness. It is fitting she recites, with longing, passages of his poetry.

MASHA: A green oak stands upon a firth,
A chain of gold hangs round its trunk . . . (123)

HE NE’ER HAD TIME TO SAY A PRAYER: A quotation from the fable “The Peasant and the Farmhand” by Ivan Krylov (1768-1844). Many of his fables are loosely based on the work of Aesop. He often satirizes incompetent bureaucracy, which he felt stifled social progress in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

SOLYONY: He ne’er had time to say a prayer,
When he was sat on by the bear. (124)

IL NE FAUT PAS FAIRE DU BRUIT: More bad French from Natasha: “Don’t make any noise. Sophie is already asleep. You are a bear!”

NATASHA: Who’s that talking so loud out there? Is it you, Andrei? You’ll wake up baby Sophie. Il ne pas faire du bruit, la Sophie est dormeé déjà. Vous êtes un ours (183).

I MAY BE STRANGE: A quotation from the comedy Woe From Wit by Aleksandr Griboedov. The line comes from the protagonist who opposes Moscow’s high society.

SOLYONY: “I may be strange, but then who is not? . . . Aleko, be not wroth!” (150)

IT PARAIT QUE MON BOBIK DÉJÀ NE DORT PAS: Bad French on Natasha’s part: “It seems my Bobik is already not asleep.”

JE VOUS PRIE, PARDONNEZ-MOI, MARIE, MAIS VOUS AVEZ DES MANIÈRES UN PEU GROSSIÈRES: French for “Please, forgive me, Marie, but you have rather rude manners. Speaking French would be common in noble Russian intellectual circles, but Natasha’s use is pretentious and full of mistakes. She should say “je vous en prie.”

KOCHANE: Polish for “dearest.”

KULYGIN: And your Polish wife will throw her arms around you and call you “kochane”! (173)

KOPECK: A measurement of Russian currency, approximately 1/100 of a ruble.

MASHA: Here he is . . . Has he paid his rent?

IRINA: No, not a kopeck for eight months. Must have forgotten (144).

LERMONTOV: A reference to Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (1814-1841), an important Russian Romantic lyric poet. He was exiled twice and eventually killed in a duel. Chekhov later wrote that Solyony only thinks he looks like Lermontov, but this is only in his mind.

SOLYONY: I’ve never had anything against you, Baron. It’s just that I have the temperament of a Lermontov. I even look a bit like Lermontov . . . Or so I’m told (150).

MAIDEN’S PRAYER: A sentimental piano piece by the Polish composer T. Badarzewska-Baranovskaia (1838-1862). An incredibly easy piece to play.

IRINA: By tomorrow night I’ll no longer have to listen to that “Maiden’s Prayer” or run into Protopopov . . . (176).

NAME DAY: A custom originating with the Greek
 Orthodox church to celebrate on the saint day for which a person is named after. In Russia, name days are celebrated apart from birthdays but in a similar fashion. Celebrations can range widely from cards and small gifts to large formal gatherings. In many regards a name day celebration is more important than a birthday because it commemorates one’s baptism into the community of Christ.

Irina’s May 5 name day celebration commemorates Saint Irene of Macedonia. Her feast day is widely celebrated in Eastern Orthodox churches.

St. Irene of Macedonia was born in the late 1st century the daughter of a pagan Roman nobleman. She learned of Christianity as a young girl, converted, and was baptized in secret by St. Timothy. As a teenager, her parents attempted to arrange a marriage between her and another pagan nobleman, she refused, and broke all her father’s pagan idols. When her father discovered her conversion he commanded she renounced her faith. She refused and so he commanded she would be trampled to death by horses. She remained unharmed, but one of the horses rose up and crushed her father to death. She prayed for him and raised him from the dead, after this he too was baptized. Irene later traveled on missionary projects often suffering torture and working miracles. She converted thousands to Christianity. She died in peace at the home of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus in first half on the 2nc century. She was buried. Two days later, the gravestone was lifted off, but the grave was empty.

OLGA: Father died exactly a year ago today, May the fifth. Your name day, Irina. It was so cold then. Snowing, I never thought I’d survive. You lay there in a dead faint. But now a year’s gone by, and it scarcely bothers us to think about it. You’re wearing white, your face is radiant . . . (119).

 NAPHTHALENE: An organic compound with a characteristic odor. It is most often used as the main ingredient for traditional mothballs.

CHEBUTYKIN: To prevent loss of hair . . . dissolve ten grams of naphthalene in half a bottle of alcohol . . . and apply daily (121).

NEW VIRGIN CEMETERY: A cemetery attached to the Novodevihcy Convent, established in 1524 by Tsar Vasily III to commemorate the capture of Smolensk from Lithuania. It was built as a religious building, but also to serve as a fortress. It became a convent for ladies of noble birth. 

 It is the burial site of many famous Russian authors, artists, and politicians including Anton Chekhov.

IRINA: Mama is buried in Moscow.

OLGA: In the New Virgin Cemetery (127).

O FALLACEM HOMINUM SPEM: Latin for “Oh vain is human hope.” Kulygin quotes from Cicero’s The Orator.

KUYLGIN: I’d have liked some tea. I was looking forward to an evening in pleasant company, and – O fallacem hominum spem! Accusative of exclamation . . . (155).

OLD BASMANNAYA STREET: A popular neighborhood in Moscow for “European” Russian officers under Peter I. The Church of St. Peter and Paul was built in the area in the early 18th century. It eventually became a popular place for Russian nobility to live as well. By 1750, the neighborhood had the largest collection of baroque architecture in Moscow. The neighborhood burnt down in 1812, but was gradually rebuilt. In the early 20th century, the neighborhood was transformed by Art Nouveau and Neoclassical Revival architecture.

There is a sense of pride that the sisters take in having originated in that particular neighborhood as it suggests their class and their father’s role in the military.

IRINA: We plan to be there by autumn. We’re natives of Moscow. We were born there . . . Old Basmannaya Street (126).

OMNIA MEA MECUM PORTO: Latin: “I carry all my goods on my person.” A reference from Cicero’s Paradoxa.

KULYGIN: You and I aren’t poor. I work. I have my position at the school and give private lessons too . . . I am an honest man, a simple man. . . Omnia mea mecum porto, as the saying goes (166).

OUR MORAL MIGHT BE MADE: Solyony quotes the moral from Krylov’s fable, The Geese in which barnyard geese boast of their ancestors, the geese who saved Rome, but they have no merits of their own.

SOLYONY: Our moral might be made more clear.
But that would only tease the geese, I fear (164).

PETERSBURG: This is a shortened name for St. Petersburg, Tusenbach’s hometown. Originally founded in the early 18th century by Peter the Great, the city was built by conscripted peasants. Later, he moved the capital of Russian from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Its most famous building is the Winter Palace designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, but the city includes many famous examples of Neoclassical architecture. The 1905 Revolution began in Petersburg. During World War I, the name was changed to Petrograd or “Peter’s City.”

Tusenbach’s privileged existence in a beautiful and historic city has left him feeling a sense of ennui. He has never had to work for anything and feels a sense of meaninglessness to his life.

TUSENBACH: I was born in Petersburg – cold; idle Petersburg – into a family that didn’t know what work is, never had a care in the world. (122)

PLEASE EAT THIS DATE: Words from an operetta once put on at the Hermitage Theatre.

CHEBUTYKIN: You sit there with your eyes shut while Natasha has her fling with Protopopov. “Please eat this date at my behest . . .” (162).

RED BARRACKS: Red brick structures built to house the Russian army. They still stand in various Russian cities and districts.

VERSHININ: I would walk from there to the Red Barracks. On the way I’d pass a gloomy-looking bridge with water flowing under it. It gives a lonely man a heavy heart (127).

SAMOVAR: A large and often ornate metal apparatus used to heat and boil water. Samovars use a small coal-burning chimney used to heat a metal teapot filled with a strong, concentrated tea. A functional item, some were crafted to be exotic and elegant works of enamel and silver.

Chebutykin’s gift to Irina for her name day celebration would have been considered quite extravagant as, likely, they would have already owned one. Chebutykin’s constant doting on Irina suggests a special bond between the two characters, some critics infer that he may actually be Irina’s father, or at least he believes he might be.

CHEBUTYKIN: Expensive gifts . . . Really now. You’re impossible, all of you! Put the samovar down over there (125).

SARATOV: A major port city on the Volga River. It is known for a rather large German population.

IRINA: Just now a woman came to the office to send her brother in Saratov a telegram saying that her son had died today, but she couldn’t remember the address (143).

TA-RA-RA BOOM-DE-AY: Lyrics to a British music-hall song, accompanied by a high-kicking dance.

TROIKA: Rides in these sleighs decorated with colored ribbons and bells were a favored pastime during carnival time. The sleighs would travel in wide semi-circles to commemorate the sun’s passage.

Natasha’s ride with Protopopov is suggestive of their not-so-clandestine affair.

NATASHA: Protopopov? What a funny man. That’s Protopopov outside inviting me for a ride in his troika (154).

TRUE LOVE KNOWS NEITHER AGE NOR STATION: Vershinin sings lyrics from Gremin’s aria in Chaikovsk’s opera Yevgerry Onegin (1877), it is based on Pushkin’s verse novel.

VERSHININ: True love knows neither age nor station.
Its pangs are pure invigoration (164).

TSITSIHAR: A city in Northeast China.

CHEBUTYKIN: Tsitsihar. There is a smallpox epidemic raging (147).

UT CONSECUTIVUM: Latin: “a means of living, a temporary compromise.”

KULYGIN: He was expelled in the fifth year because he could never quite grasp the ut consecutivum (175).

Three Sisters: Anton Chekhov Biography

Anton Chekhov was born in the port town of Taganrog January 17, 1860 to his father, Pavel Yegorovich, and mother, Yevgeniya Morozova. He was the third of six children. Although his family was technically of “serf class,” his grandfather, an industrious estate manager, had purchased the family’s freedom in 1841. Pavel ran a small grocery store where his sons worked long hours. Time was otherwise spent in observance to daily worship and other practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pavel enrolled his sons in the local choir that he founded and conducted.

Even at an early age, Chekhov was enthralled by the stage. Although it was against school regulations, he and his friends would sneak off to the playhouse to watch theatre. While in school he began writing sketches and short plays and performing in local comic productions.

In 1879, Chekhov moved to Moscow and enrolled in medical school on a scholarship funded by the Taganrog municipal authorities. He was put in a position as the head of his family with his father failing at business, his older brothers descended into alcoholism, and his younger siblings still in school. Chekhov lived at home and was determined to make a living as a journalist while working through the five-year medical school program. He wrote primarily for humor magazines, but also contributed regularly to the periodical Splinters of Petersburg Life and wrote a theatrical gossip column.

In 1884, he set himself up as a general practitioner. In December of that year, he began coughing up blood. He diagnosed himself with tuberculosis, although he would remain relatively healthy for the next few years. He continued to write and practice medicine, publishing his first collection of stories, Fairy Tales of Melpomene. The following years gained him an impressive reputation as a writer.

By 1891, he was well established and earned enough money in royalties to purchase a farm fifty miles south of Moscow in Melikhovo. He planted a cherry orchard, installed a flush toilet, and became a gracious host. He involved himself with humanitarian work throughout the community building roads, schools, and a free medical clinic. He also served the community as a member of the sanitary commission and famine relief board during the cholera epidemic of 1892-1893.

While he had given up writing theatre for several years, he revived his interest in developing dramatic works in 1894. A disastrous production of The Seagull was performed in St. Petersburg’s Alexandra Theatre in 1896. This experience soured him to theatre and he swore it off even though The Seagull grew more popular in subsequent performances. He couldn’t stay away too long, as we wrote Uncle Vanya in 1897.

During that year he was diagnosed officially with tuberculosis and left Melikhovo for milder climates. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between Yalta, France, Germany, and Moscow. He also became involved with the newly founded Moscow Art Theatre with which his dramatic career would be bound for the rest of his life. Constantine Stanislavski compelled him to revive The Seagull at the end of the theatre’s first season. After the production, the company adopted an art-nouveau style seagull as its emblem and regarded Chekhov as their house dramatist.

While through his life, Chekhov had engaged in a number of prominent love affairs, he settled down and married Moscow Art Theatre actress Olga Knipper in 1900. Their marriage was relatively happy and spirited, although they lived apart often as she worked in Moscow and he retreated to Yalta due to his chronic illness.

By 1903, Chekhov was extremely ill. He traveled to Moscow in December to attend rehearsals for The Cherry Orchard and was visibly frail. His Berlin doctors sent him to a health resort in the Black Forest which he died June 2, 1904. He was mourned by writers, theatre professionals, and many others. He body was buried in St. Petersburg at the Novodevichy cemetery.

Three Sisters: Overview

Welcome to the rehearsal journal and resources for Oregon State University Theatre's upcoming production of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters. The entries will include information about the play, concept, design, dramaturgy, and rehearsal and performance process.

The show is cast and rehearsals will begin with a Russian dinner and read-through on January 8. Our production of this classic piece of early realism will expose the complex (and often very funny) familial relationships of the Prozorov family. Although originally written in 1900, we have chosen to set the play several years later beginning in 1909. Part of the rational is, admittedly, my own aesthetic bias towards the design elements of the years between 1909 and 1912. The less shallow reason is due to the historical and political context in the years leading to the February Revolution in 1917 and the looming threat of World War I. Although many of Chekhov's plays engage issues of class struggle and the deterioration of the aristocracy, he never could have imagined the transformation his country would undergo after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin. Moving the dates closer to the socio-political shift creates a greater sense of immediacy surrounding the lives of the Prozorovs and their friends. While they languish in the country, concerning themselves with petty small-town affairs and longing for what they may never attain, the world transforms around them. Their hopes and dreams become all the more poignant as they do not realize how soon what they have will slip away.

Three Sisters originally premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1901. This wry and witty work tells the story of the Prozorov family headed by brother Andrei and his three sisters Olga, Masha, and Irina. The play is a sensitive and funny look into the life in a small provincial town and the people that reside there touching on themes of love, loss, and unfulfilled dreams.

The play begins at a festive celebration on May 5 for Irina, the youngest sister’s, name day. The party is a bittersweet affair as it is also the anniversary of the death of the Prozorov’s father, a general in the Russian army. The family reminisces about life growing up in Moscow as Irina tends to the polite advances of several potential suitors including Solyony, a cynical army captain, Fedotik, a cheerfully generous soldier, Rodet, a high school drill coach and soldier, and Tusenbach, a sensitive and intellectual baron and lieutenant. Irina is not interested in love or marriage, and instead, longs for work to find meaning in her life.

Other party guests include Masha, the brooding and beautiful middle sister, Kulygin, Masha’s sweet but rather foolish husband, Olga, the kindly eldest sister, and Chebutykin, an aging army doctor who dotes on Irina. In a rather melancholy mood, Masha begins to leave the party when the handsome Vershinin, a debonair lieutenant-colonel arrives. Masha, struck by his charm remains at the party and the two characters embark on a mutual attraction that remains throughout the play, although both are married to other people. Late in the celebration, Andrei’s girlfriend, Natasha arrives. The sisters laugh at her poor fashion sense and country manners. Andrei loves her and they agree to marry.

Time passes and family drama ensues as the sisters long to return to Moscow, which remains a distant and unattainable dream.