"Encuentros com Chéjóv", a double-bill program with the theatrical adaptation of the texts "Casa con buhardilla" and "La Novia", at the Chekov Chamber Theatre in Madrid was a flop of heroical proportions.
A evening-out to meet dear old Anton Pavlovitch is always a treat-in-waiting… as long as any director, company or group of actors stick to the fundamentals of playing Chekhov, which is to achieve totally realistic, Stanislavski-era, credible acting. Chekhov wrote plays and wrote prose texts that he had chosen not to be plays for some reason. To adapt his short-stories for the theatre is therefore always tricky. In the Soviet Union/Russia it was done with extreme care and I personally witnessed a fine successful example in Moscow with “The Lady with a Lapdog”, one of the all-time favourite “shorts” in his oeuvre. But those texts have to be turned both into theatre and into “Chekhovian” theatre, otherwise it just falls flat, like a concert version of an opera, with no dramaturgy.
Angel Gutierrez, the director of these “Encuentros con Chéjóv”, is someone, I am told, who has probably done more to bring Chekhov to Madrid and to the Spanish audiences than any other Spaniard. His good intentions are not in doubt. Maybe it works to Spanish-Only-speaking audiences but, man! , it has not worked for me… Nor to Russkaya for obvious reasons. First advice to Spanish speaking actors doing Chekhov: get a voice coach and train very hard. I am sorry to say this but if you can’t pronounce “Sasha” , and your very best is “ssassa” you should seriously consider a different play-writer. If you can’t do better than “andrei andreii” when you’re supposed to say “andrei andrei~ivitch” (or even “andrei andrei-itch”, which would be largely acceptable) I’m afraid you have to stay clear of the Russians. Or else change the names of the characters. Ivan Timofeyitch to Chema Gomez or Sasha to Paco, for instance.
In fact the actors, with an embarrassing Russian actress among them, for Goodness sake!, were all acting in pre-Stanislavskian mode. It reminded me the TV theatre in my own country when I was a child. Over-acting, over-posturing, over-here and over-there. That same actress, which I will not name out of humanitarian concern, was having a bad trip or something. She had the cheek to return eight times (eight!) for applause at the end of the play, as if we were attending “Le Spectre de la Rose” with Nureyev in his prime time. I’m no “luvvie” and I don’t move in theatre circles so I can afford to be direct and painfully truthful. This theatrical evening was rubbish and a disservice to the cause of defending the standards of Chekhov’s theatre.
The little chamber theatre was deliciously evocative of Moscow, though. A XIX century dusty niceness that half-redeemed the kitsch factor:
When Russkaya and this blogger of yours were actively engaged in the debriefing exercise, in front of a credible, no frills, solomillo, a thing or two came about as having justified the trip to the theatre at Calle San Cosme y San Damian.
The sense that something was imminent that would wipe out the leisurely life style of the serf-exploiting classes was more crudely expressed in “The Bride” that in many of the famous Chekhov plays. In fact, we agreed, at the time of the Crema de Leche (the local ersatz for “Crème Brulée”), that Anton Pavlovitch did more than his share for the advent of the Revolution. As the true humanist that he was he would never have endorsed the excesses of the revolutionary apocalypse, but he paved the way alright for the general feeling that a moderate way out for Russia was doomed.
Chekhov as a “compagnon de route” of Chernichevsky? Well, thank you, Angel Gutierrez, for the insight.