It’s taken me an incredibly long time to put this play together. Possibly because we’ve had so much time to do it (an illusion, really), possibly because, of all my plays, this is the one that deals with subjects closest to my heart: the making of a play, and Chehov, my Chehov (the one spelled without a k), the man I've always regarded as a contemporary, with whose plays I’ve had a complicated relationship ever since I can remember.
The question has always been, why do actors find it so difficult to play his characters? Is it the rhythm, that slow gliding toward unhappiness that the so-called realism of the stage (which doesn’t really exist, but that’s a discussion for another time) has trouble recreating? Is it because Chehov’s plays exist, stubbornly, at the intersection of a certain brand of psychological realism and the absurd? I don’t know. What I do know is that, like Shakespeare’s plays, Chehov’s invite deadliness – those never-ending productions of correct articulation and unspeakable boredom.
For some reason (possibly the “transfer” of some actors from to Noir to Glissando, possibly something else entirely), I wanted to create a connection between the two plays, so in this production Chehov is credited with writing Noir. Why? First, there’s the stark contrast, almost an opposites attract kind of relationship: Noir, done without professional lighting (remember the abandoned lamp factory set?) because I couldn’t get over parting with a brilliant lighting designer I’d worked with for a decade; Glissando, our first production at the ACA Moncus Theatre, benefiting from the theatre’s superb lighting and sound system. Second, if everything in Noir was meant to look improvised, decayed, accidental (how else would one flirt with the Angel of Death?), Glissando moves in the opposite direction, toward the beautiful, the mellifluous, the artistic.
When the play opens, Chehov is working on a production of Three Sisters – he writes the play as he directs it, the way I work on the Milena Group productions – and although there is much chaos and confusion in the mind of the playwright as he tries to organize the scenes of his play, everything, from the set dominated by three giant paintings of the sisters, to the movement of the light between the “real space,” (the Chehov household) and the imaginary space (the stage where Chehov rehearses his play), has that gliding rhythm, almost trance-like, that the Chehovian characters experience, a rhythm that creates a sense of beautiful serenity that welcomes personal tragedies without surprise. All of this to say that tragedy is beautiful and glamorous while comedy is cheeky and loud, chaotic and messy, alive…The reason it took me so long to find Glissando’s rhythm is that, in keeping with Chehov’s claim that he was writing comedies, I wanted to blend both: impossible, tragic love affairs, and moments of terrific comedy, while never betraying the rhythm of the production. It hasn’t been easy, but I think that rehearsing the scenes of the play separately, and in no particular order (like working on a film), and slowly revealing each character’s tragedy in vignettes, moving from “real” to make-believe spaces, has done the trick.
Ever since we started working on this play, I’ve felt that all of us began to live inside a strange, meta-Chehovian production, a play-within-a-play scenario that resulted in disturbing events and strange coincidences.
I’ve never denied or tried to hide my superstitious nature, but I have to say that, in the middle of misfortunes, catastrophes, and reversals (see previous posts), I’ve felt a certain strange logic take over, something that seemed to demand that we live Chehovian scenarios in reality before attempting them on the stage. Everything that’s happened in the past months (the necessity of replacing the actress playing Olga – nobody can ask the human body to perform impossible feats; following S’s daring career change in the middle of the rehearsal process; hoping some of the cast and crew will not collapse under the enormous pressure of PhD exams and dissertations – a constant reminder that theatre is everyone’s refuge, but not everyone’s career or main preoccupation – and how grateful this makes me, knowing the time, the emotional energy these people put in each production!…living with the disappointment of a failed kickstarter campaign for Glissando; responding to a late evening text from one of the actors whose friend, knowing nothing about the production, used the character’s name instead of the actor’s…a typo. “How is that possible? We never discussed the play or my character’s name!” – strange, impossible coincidences as the date of the show nears, and many other internal developments I won’t even mention here, difficult but necessary decisions about the future, and a permanent sense of exhaustion)…everything points to the fact that we are, that we have been, living inside a Chehov play for months now. What can I say? I hope it’s worth it. I think so. I think that, perhaps, trying to do a Chehov play like any other play, in a matter of weeks, has been the problem with many of the Chehov productions I've seen. Perhaps only this blurring of boundaries between reality and the stage can make us understand his characters profoundly. Perhaps a sacrifice is necessary before each production. We should be fine then. We’ve sacrificed a lot already.