New York Experiences Chekhov Outbreak

According to The New York Times, there has been an Anton Chekhov outbreak in New York City. “I can’t remember a year in the theater as crowded with productions of Chekhov’s chronicles of lonely lives as 2012 has been,” Ben Brantley writes.

Brantley says that there appears to be a “bottomless hunger” for Chekhov’s distinctive ability to mingle sorrow and joy, a mingling that Brantley calls “life itself, something as common and finite as it is precious and inexhaustible.”

“Think about [a Chekhov play] hard enough,” Brantley writes, “and you can laugh until you cry or cry until you laugh.” Checkhov’s work, he notes, is “[n]either cheering nor mellifluous in its depiction of shrinking aspirations and missed connections among Russian provincials.”

Brantley goes on to explore why young people especially are suddenly discovering Chekhov. It’s all got to do with living in uncertain times:

There’s something about the clarity in Chekhov’s ambiguity — his quiet insistence that life is comic and tragic at once in a world without heroes or villains — that is making today’s artists identify with him with a new, illuminating fierceness.

“Disappointment, apathy, frayed nerves and weariness are the inevitable consequences of excessive excitability,” Chekhov wrote in a letter in 1888, “and this excitability is to a great degree characteristic of your young people.” You can understand an affinity by young writers today for characters who have the energy of youth and no means of channeling it. Chekhov may resonate most piercingly in an era of transition, when ideologies are in flux and the notion of a secure family home is under siege. (Think of how much in Chekhov’s plays concern embattled real estate.)

The idleness of unemployment; the sense that the old forms of expression are outmoded (but no consoling sense of new forms to come); the friction that comes from generations of families being crowded together, by necessity, under one roof; a distrust of ready-made ideologies: These are all as characteristic of our own time as they were of Chekhov’s provincial pre-revolutionary Russia.

The more help we can get understanding the situation we are currently going through, the better.

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