The Three Sisters - pretty, sensitive and unhappy
Naděžda Parmová 3. June 2009 zdroj Boskovické noviny
If you get in the right mood for experiencing the nostalgia of the "Russian soul" of the Chekhov period, visit Brno City Theatre.
We, the Czechs, know that the number of three sisters was specified to Anton Pavlovich by Jára Cimrman and that it is a tragicomedy of people who are in search of the meaning of life. When Chekhov wrote The Three Sisters for the director Stanislavski in 1900, he claimed that it was a comedy.
Stanislavski made the play into an "oppressive drama from Russian life" and it has stayed like this ever since. Chekhov was angry because of that and he wrote, among other things: "I wanted something completely different. I simply wanted to tell the people - Look at yourselves, look at what a poor and boring life you lead. Understand what a stupid and boring life you are living."
The play can be viewed from many angles. I see it as an ever-topical play, as a drama about the collapse of dreams - in this respect, Andrei Prozorov's life is the most touching. It's about the problems of people who cannot live fully at the present time and escape to their memories and to the future. We can see this all around ourselves even today. All the characters have clear outlines and all of the fourteen actors perform excellently. We believe their desires and dreams and we are also able to cry when everything is tumbling down. There hasn't been such a beautiful stage at the drama theatre (by Emil Konečný) and such inspiring costumes for a long time. It is director Stanislav Moša's first production of Chekhov. When he was asked at a press conference why it has taken him so long, he said that he'd had to mature for this. Mr. Moša, you have matured excellently, thank you!
About poses, habits in life, emptiness in the soul
J. P. Kříž 3. June 2009 zdroj Právo
Brno City Theatre performs Chekhov's Three Sisters in a faithful, yet thrilling interpretation by director Moša
Czech directors usually treat Chekhov inventively and bravely in order to avoid that boringness which was assigned to the master of world drama by Stanislavski. The most recent proof: Three Sisters by the director Stanislav Moša and dramaturgist Jiří Záviš at Brno City Theatre.
However, their approach to Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is unprecedentedly humble, almost reverent, featuring minimal omissions of text and the inclusion of all prescribed situations. The inventiveness of Moša's production lies in something else: in acting the scenes using non-verbal communication, in the exact description of relationships, and in making them up-to-date with regards to our perception of love, dreams, boredom and convention.
Acting without words
Masha isn't bothered about her love for Vershinin. These two enjoy that momentary love affair which marks unsuccessful marriages in our time rather than Chekhov's…
The futile desires, social rigidity, hopelessness and resignation to their lot in life of the majority of the characters are expressed with humour and lightness, and they are precisely accentuated in the afore-mentioned exactly-replicated situations. For example, the actors accept Vershinin's thinker's gesture accompanied by "let's philosophize a bit" by sitting down in armchairs and sofas in an automatized way: It will be boring.
It doesn't hold the story back, as average dramaturgists might think, but it makes it lighter. And at the same time, it expresses the spiritual emptiness masterfully, including the apathetic and never-materialized wish to work, to get out of being entrapped in stereotype, and a blind belief in Russia's future. Unlike Chekhov, we know where and which way 20th century Russia was heading.
Emil Konečný's white stage, decorated with tulle curtains, the contrast between the white and dark costumes by Andrea Kučerová, the inconspicuous and yet clearly comparative background music by Zdenek Merta: all of these things form another qualitative dimension to Moša's Three Sisters.
And those acting performances! What else when you have only prize winners and Thalia candidates on the stage? Markéta Sedláčková in the role of the internally unbalanced Olga, the excellent Ivana Vaňková as Masha, who is suffering emotionally in her marriage, and Svetlana Slováková as Irina, who is the youngest but is experiencing a lot of difficult situations in life. And Lenka Janíková's Natalia, who not only clucks but is furious!
There is Vershinin (Petr Štěpán) - an empty vessel, the resigned army doctor Chebutykin (Jan Mazák), Michal Isteník's Prozorov, who staggers through his life without will, the helpless professor-like figure of Kulygin in an original interpretation by Milan Němec, a stiff but very dangerous Solyony by Jaroslav Matějka…
The previous, very good, production of Three Sisters was by Sergej Fedotov at Brno's HaDivadlo. Moša's Sisters is no less interesting - in fact, it is probably even more so than the production of the miracle from Perm in the Urals, but in a different way.
Brno's Three Sisters
Peter Stoličný 31. May 2009 zdroj www.divadlo.sk
If you enter Three Sisters into the Czech section of the Google internet search engine, you might find a lot of entries for the Czech band Tri Sestry and its frontman Lou Fanánek Hagen but only five entries for Anton Pavlovich Chekhov's play. This is partly a sign of these times. Classical drama somehow doesn't fit into today's fast three-dimensional cyber culture. Luckily, there are still enough lovers of good theatre in the Czech Republic to fill the auditorium and go and see Chekhov.
On the last day of May, Brno City Theatre performed Three Sisters on a beautiful white stage designed by Emil Konečný; the play was directed by Stanislav Moša and translated by Leoš Suchařípa. Inventive period costumes were designed by Andrea Kučerová and the almost fairy-tale-like music for the story was composed by Zdenek Merta.
You can see from the beginning that I will be praising the production. I have already reached an age when I've stopped enjoying throwing critical lightning at poor producers who have failed at something and so I'm going to write only about the things I like. And I liked The Three Sisters. A lot.
If I'm not mistaken, Anton Pavlovich was unhappy with what director Stanislavski did to his Three Sisters after the premiere in MCHAT. It was a comedy that he had written, not a sentimental drama. However, the world came to know a tragedy about the misery of Russian provincial intelligentsia. They want to work - but they don't know how to. They want to love - but they don't know how to. They want to understand each other - but they hurt each other instead.
I found the description of the plot on Wikipedia interesting. It is worth quoting: "The main setting of the play is in the Prozorov's house in a small Russian town where four young people live, the siblings Olga, Masha, Irina and Andrei. They remain there after the death of their father, a Russian army general. The house, which is full of flowers and sunlight at the beginning, becomes darker and darker and more claustrophobic and all the siblings, one by one, are literally expelled from it."
At the end of the play, one of the sisters, Olga, says: Life must go on… This statement can have two opposite meanings according to how the producers approach the text. If it is a tragedy, it is a complaint: we will live in this unhappy state until our deaths, because we don't even know how to die. If it is a comedy, it is a hopeful look into the future: Life must go on! We have to believe that, even after all the hardship we have gone through, that life will be better and nicer. We have to live it fully. Because life is beautiful…
And how did this sentence sound in Stanislav Moša's production? Perhaps the way the author himself, A.P. Chekhov, would want it to, even though Andrei lost their sister's house through his drinking, and unfaithful Masha openly admits her hopeless love for Vershinin despite the very recent and quite unnecessary death of Tuzenbach, who was shot in a duel. The officers, who are the only hope for keeping the forgotten town alive, leave, but despite that, Olga tries to cheer everyone up: Life must go on!
So far, everything I have written is in favour of drama, almost everything sounds melancholic and weepy and yet, comedy can be created from it. A comedy during which a good deal of laughter can sometimes be heard in the auditorium. In fact, it is logical. The philosopher, Bergson, wrote in his study Laughter: A comedy is closer to real life than a tragedy. The more tragic a drama is, the more a poet has to adapt reality for the drama in order to achieve tragedy in its pure form. However, comedy differs from real life only in its lower forms, in vaudeville and slapstick comedy. The higher it gets, the closer it connects to life. In real life, there are scenes which are so close to noble comedy that they could be moved onto the stage even without changing a single word in them… Every comic effect contains a contradiction. What makes us laugh is real absurdity in a specific form, a "visible absurdity", that is absurd on one side and naturally explainable on the other… (Bergson H. Laughter, Naše Vojsko, Prague 1994)
I think this is where the charm of a well grasped Chekhov work lies. This is exactly what Stanislav Moša has succeeded in doing - in introducing the absurd into natural life with the help of small details and conjuring laughter from this contrast. I cannot resist returning to wise Bergson. He says in some other place: Social life involves a latent comicity in its ceremonies which is just waiting to come out. If you forget the serious theme of the ceremony, its participants who act in it will seem like dolls. Their mobility is controlled by the rigidity of the formula, it is automated… Even though Bergson supports most of his statements using the characters from Moliére's comedies, his observations are unbelievably accurate for this province far from Moscow where something like French is spoken, where efforts are made to keep to the lordly ways of the Moscow nobility even though the mere word 'Moscow' already evokes painful sighs. The director of the Brno production used exactly this aspect for the sad and simultaneously comic situations. It isn't very comic when two characters are kicking each other's backsides in a futile attempt to be funny. It is beautifully comic when humour originates in sadness. When this situation is deeply true… it is a waste to analyze this thought further. Henry Bergson said it all more accurately.
But let's return to the production itself. I said about another of Brno City Theatre's productions not a long time ago that Zdeněk Černín's direction is highly actor-oriented, as he is an actor himself by his original profession - thus, he starts from the actors and tailors the whole work to them - and I saw a big plus in this. Stanislav Moša approaches this production exactly from the opposite pole. His direction is exclusively conceptional. He probably has sequences of the mise-en-scenes already in his head, he knows exactly how an actor will act and he subordinates the actors' approach to it. The actors are happy to subordinate themselves to it because they will feel (perhaps after the piece is finished) that the director's approach was correct and conceptional. I came to understand this when two protagonists were pretending to be fighting in the first act - they point their fingers pretending that they are holding a gun… and then this fight really does take place at the end of the play and one of them dies. (Chekhov wrote that when a gun is hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be shot with in the third act - this is the construction of the mise-en-scene which Moša followed successfully).
But I don't want to write only about the direction. The success of a theatre depends on the actors. They are the communicators between the creator and the recipients. It needs to be said that in The Three Sisters it was the three sisters acted by Markéta Sedláčková, Ivana Vaňková and Svetlana Slováková that were the stars. I knew in advance that Sedláčková and Slováková are ideal actresses for these roles. But I wasn't sure how Ivana Vaňková, the fresh mother of little Josef, would manage the quite complicated character of Masha. However, her acting, particularly when she was with her husband, the sheepish professor Kulagyn (Milan Němec) - was a real virtuoso display of the actor's art.
Petr Štěpán's colonel, Vojtěch Blahuta's Tuzenbach and also the beautifully comic Solyony acted by Jaroslav Matějka, together with Jan Mazák's doctor: this is a list of characters which are supposed to be far from tragedy. But when you realize that this heap of humor was performed in the gloomy and oppressive atmosphere of a small Russian town, when you realize that these people suffered from unrequited love, boredom, jealousy and were even murdered, then it is admirable how it was all mixed together with laughter. And there wasn't a bit of cynicism in it.
There was nothing which would contradict the humanitarian principles of viewing the world. And it wasn't humour without any purpose. So what created the comic undertones of the production? Probably the juxtaposition of the tragic and the funny. Probably the Chekhovian kind, understanding and simultaneously educational raised finger. And so a big round of applause for the director, the actors and all of the other producers. Finally, there is a Chekhov play with which also Chekhov would be happy.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: The Three Sisters
David Kroča 31. May 2009 zdroj Český rozhlas 3 - Vltava
At Brno City Theatre, the production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters is different from the traditional canon regarding how the play is interpreted. While the textbook interpretations claim that, with Chekhov, the core of the message needs to be sought in the inner world of the characters rather than in the dramatic action, Stanislav Moša's production bets on directness. The play is "as clear as a mountain river," says the director himself in the programme, adding: "Nothing is hidden in it! One only needs to know how to read!"
Dramaturgist Jiří Záviš, who collected a series of essential texts on Chekhovian dramaturgy for the programme, dared to utter an even more honest statement: "The opinions in the articles above do not express the intentions of the producers." His words can also be read thusly: ''Yes. We know that this work of Chekhov's is quite complicated but we will create it in our own way.''
The production team focused on the comedic aspect of the famous play. They emphasize its timelessness in the way it reveals the comicity, smallness and pride of each of us. The house of the Prozorov siblings then becomes a fun house of figures which mock various kinds of people: for example, the brother of the three sisters, Andrei, is a traditional henpecked man, Vershinin comes across as a dreamer and talker, while Kulygin represents the absent-minded type of professor with no social skills. The tragic dimension of the characters then remains mainly in how they are still ludicrous even after all those long days which have elapsed since the play was written.
Director Stanislav Moša needs to be praised for not making almost any reductions in the well thought-out score. His production lasts more than three hours, but it isn't boring thanks to the unexpectedly fast tempo. The grey lengthiness of the village life of the Prozorovs, which is of course appropriate to the play, is felt perhaps only at the beginning of the first act when Masha, Olga and Irina are lazing around in the hall of their house. Scenographer Emil Konečný has created it in the form of a sugar candy-like hall in which the main artistic element is white gauze that covers all the furniture and appears in the form of curtains around the stage. The atmosphere of higher class society is reinforced by the costumes in which Andrea Kučerová reflects mainly the characteristics of the individual protagonists.
As was already mentioned, the actors present their characters as types, which isn't a problem for them. The down-trodden Andrei, acted by Michal Isteník, Petr Štěpán's talkative Vershinin and also Milan Němec's Kulygin are figures which easily entertain the spectators. The character which is the closest to Chekhov's conflict between dreams and reality is the youngest sister, Irina, acted by Svetlana Slováková. This talented actress has managed to imprint into her character a desire for a better life which is symbolized for her by a return to Moscow, and at the same time has moulded Irina from a mixture of inner restlessness, child-like naivety as well as permanent disillusion. Ivana Vaňková and Vendula Ježková alternate in the role of Masha. I saw Masha acted by Ježková, who accentuated mainly the desire of a married woman for an attractive lover. The oldest of the sisters, Olga, was more interesting in the way she was acted by Markéta Sedláčková: she longs for affection as well but she always manages to hide it behind the mask of a reserved professor of a girl's grammar school.