Antosh Chekhonte – Thoughts about Theater and More

We present an article by Tajik art curator Faruh Kuziev. In this material Faruh analyzes Tajik society through the prism of the theatre perfomance “Stories by Antosha Chekhonte” that he attended

Tajik journalist Sergey Chutkkov has already written about the theatre perfomance “Stories by Antosha Chekhonte” in Russian Mayakovski Drama Theater in Dushnabe. Here we post the article by Faruh Kuziev. Please read about an analitical material about theatre, Anton Chkhov and Tajik Society.

Antosh Chekhonte[1]  – Thoughts about Theater and More

On May 5th 2014 I was fortuned to attend a theater presentation “Stories by Antosha Chekhonte” (based on early works by Anton Chekhov) in Russian Mayakovski Drama Theater. This production was a competition work by a young Russian theater director Nadejda Slavnaya. That was a pioneering work. I would not overstate that this presentation was one of the freshest and unconventional in several years in Dushanbe. I think that an insightful analysis of this theater work will reveal two fundamental socio-cultural processes – the rise of the “Big Chekhov”[2] and the decay of melodramatic culture in Russia literature and theater of the end of the 19th century. These are the most important milestones that I want to draw readers’ attention to in order to infer the subtle socio-political message of the theater pieces presented that night.

Photo from rehearsal of the theatre perfomance “Stories by Antosha Chekhonte” 

The birth and the rise of Chekhov as a critical writer, the promising author of the psychological portrait of his epoch  with its collective neuroses of the petty landowners and intelligentsia for me was manifested in conceptual stage design unprecedented for Dushanbe. The scenery produced by a Russian stage designer Elena Shabanova appeared to the audience not only moveable but also kinetic driving traveling around the stage in all directions producing an effect of independency and performing all sorts of functions. For example, a screen would turn into a carousel and a balcony into a summer house in a night garden. One can say that the scenery was not a dead background complementing the imagery and action on stage but independent actors. Actual actors could cross the frames of the assigned personages and exchange roles, or play one part for two or rather read one text together. Such visible purposeful muddle close to a square theater, for me was the best way to render attitudes and dispositions, or should I say aesthesis, of Anton Chekhov as a young artist. Thus, in my opinion, it was not staging Antosha Chekhonte’s stories but a theater piece about himself, his artistic development and intellectual evolution. Here, he appears to us as an author of acid and hilarious caricatures, drawings and sketches ridiculing vices, passions and misbelieves of his contemporaries. It was clear that the main character is Chekhov himself who was evolving into one of the most insightful psychoanalytic minds not only of his own time but also of the coming generations.

As a conclusion of this brief aesthetic inquiry into the production it could be stated that  a serious text work, intense and ongoing control over actors and a good stage vision together made it a very positive cultural output that was enjoyed by all the viewers.

But discussing only outer or formal qualities of an artwork means telling only half of the story. The second, in my view, most important part of an artwork is a narrative, ethical choice, a burden and other notions comprising its content. It is very hard to discuss content and messages of plays by authors like Chekhov because his language is dominating his own attitude to topics concerned. In other words, the form of his works is overrunning over their content and messages. Therefore theater directors need to rethink each of Chekhov’s characters and energetics of each play for every production they attempt and find him a very challenging author to stage.

I will refrain from speculations and misinterpretations and stick to Chekhov’s critique of melodramatics. Unfortunately melodramatic messages by most of the artists inTajikistanis taken as a basis of artistic life. In this respect, Chekhov’s acid ironization of such quasi-eternal values as family harmony, everlasting love, love to the end of life etc., topics that have been wearing Dushanbe theater-goers for years was indeed long-awaited. Finally, someone raised the knife to kill the Holly Cow of love and romanticism. Love, omnipresent in poetry and prose, visual arts, film and theater is becoming a syndrome of running out of good topics. (One would put it this way “When you don’t know what to talk about in your work do something about love”). I think Chekhov himself would not dispute my point that love is a very egotistic and conformed feeling and state of mind and, as one can see, in many languages is only used in singular. There are no other loves, there is only mine. Besides, love to the Other is always love to oneself. Jacques Lacan would clarify that what we love is our own love to the Other and we love this love more than we love the object of love. The Subject obsessed with his or her love and consumed with egoism and individualism in high densities is the generalized character by earlier and later Chekhov. A small landowner, merchant or intellectual in Chekhov’s works is the representation of a contradictory class of petty bourgeoisie that he referred to as “festering boil of contradictions”. In the show I saw that night the “boil” is only beginning to grow and will burst out in “The Three Sisters” and “The Uncle Vanya”.

Photo from rehearsal of the theatre perfomance “Stories by Antosha Chekhonte” 

Chekhonte’s characters are non-psychological, transparent and slightly unfinished. They have no voice of their own, they only have desires. Their desires are mutually exclusive. An artist wants a model and his lady-follower wants a husband. A husband wants a faithful wife and his wife wants a Tatar- mountain guide outside the city. The station worker wants his wife to be alive and everyone else wants her dead. Moreover, desires, as we understand today, are never fulfilled and the sense in being is in perpetuated wanting. Desire of love is a vain desire because love as a universal object does not exist. Love is a routine of rituals – dates, flowers, proposals, rejections and mutuality, trips and gifts. In contemporary world love is highly material. It is enslaved by things and their copies. As an endless train of frictions we repeat the rituals of love thinking that we strive for something sublime but the reality is that we are driving ourselves into closed circle of routine. What we think happiness is in fact is just a satisfaction with successfully performed rituals. And as it was stated in one of the stories of the show, the most exciting memory in all family life for a young man and his beloved that were busted by their younger family member who blackmailed them with threats to reveal their secret to their parents, was how they tweaked his ears after getting officially engaged. Chekhov like no one else understood that there is no happiness in love as nobody knows for sure what it is and I hope that at least some of the audience members have grasped those implicit and explicit critical meanings behind the bright and lively outer form of that theater show.

Faruh Kuziev for

[1] Anton Chekhov’s early penname (translator)

[2] “Big Chekhov” is used as a definition of some late works by Anton Chekhov that constituted a major part of his literary legacy (translator).

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