play twenty five: three sisters

The 2010 Off-Broadway production.
The 2010 Off-Broadway production.

Author: Anton Chekhov

Published: 1901

Translator: Elisaveta Fen

Synopsis: Three sisters – Olga, Masha, and Irena – live with their brother Andrei in a provincial Russian town since their move from Moscow by their father eleven years ago. The locally-stationed battalion of soldiers is the fodder for the love affairs that gradually unfold. The sisters eke out their existence to support their dissolute gambler of a brother and his insufferable wife Natasha, and gradually let go of their dream to return home.

What moved me: this is perhaps the saddest of Chekhov’s plays, if only for the initial presence of hope that is missing in his other work. In the others there is an enduring optimism for future generations to live better than those currently suffering, but here the deep-seated longing to return to Moscow belies an idealism, a belief that things could be perfect now, that is gradually worn away like old costume jewellery.

As was seeded in Ivanov, Chekhov’s control of entry and exit in group scenes, and of the dynamics within the group, is masterful. Act One has fifteen people at any one time onstage and his ability to bind them together with elastic rope such that any one exit/entrance effects a shift in the air is breathtaking.

Also, Natasha. Fuck. What a heinous creature. I’ve never read a play that has made my jaw drop in shock, but she made it happen.

play eight: speaking in tongues

Author: Andrew Bovell

Published: 1996

Synopsis: “Two couples set out to betray their partners…

A lover returns from the past and a husband doesn’t answer the phone… A woman disappears and a neighbour is the prime suspect… Contracts are broken between intimates and powerful bonds are formed between strangers.

In Andrew Bovell’s masterfully interconnected polyphony, an evocative mystery unravels at the same time as a devastating tale of disconnection between individuals, partners and communities.” (Taken from Australian Plays, which can be accessed here.)

What moved me: what moved me is the reason I cannot choose an image for this play. It is a polyphony: a simultaneous combination of a number of parts, each forming their own melody whilst also harmonising with each other. The sensation of reading this play, or listening to this play, is of being enmeshed in a musical tapestry in which you must choose a strand for your ears to pay attention to whilst you are surrounded by the throb of the weave.