Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for January 10th, 2015

“Nobody gives a damn about the cherry orchard…”

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David Mamet

I recently worked on an adaptation of The Cherry Orchard.

My newfound intimacy with the play led me to look past the quiddities of characters and examine what it is that they are actually doing. I saw this:

The title is a flag of convenience. Nobody in the play gives a damn about the cherry orchard…

Chekhov has thirteen people stuck in a summer house. He has a lot of brilliant scenes. [He needs] a pretext which will keep all thirteen characters in the same place and talking to each other for a while. This is one of the dilemmas of the modern dramatist: “Gosh, this material is fantastic. What can I do to just Keep the People in the House?”

One can have a piece of jewelry stolen. One can have a murder committed. One can have a snowstorm. One can have the car break down. One can have The Olde Estate due to be sold for debts in three weeks unless someone comes up with a good solution.

I picture this pretext occurring to Chekhov, and his saying, “Naaaa, they’ll never go for it. I picture him watching rehearsals and wincing every time Lopakhin says (as he says frequently): “Just remember, you have only three (two, one) weeks until the cherry orchard is to be sold.” Fine, he must have thought. That’s real playwriting. One doesn’t see Horatio coming out every five minutes and saying, “Don’t forget, Hamlet, your uncle killed your dad and now he’s sleeping with your ma!”

Oh no, he must have thought, I’ll never get away with it. But he did, and left us a play we cherish.

David Mamet

Written by nevalalee

January 10, 2015 at 9:00 am

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