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Chekhov: Four Plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard) – Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

 
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Posted September 1, 2016 by

Chekhov: Four Plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard) – Anton Pavlovich Chekhov – 1896-1904

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Reviewed by: Matthew Cheney

(CHEKHOV: FOUR PLAYS, translated by Carol Rocamora, Great Translations for Actors Series, Smith & Kraus, Inc., 1996 ISBN 1-57525-065-9)

ChekhovThis collection of Chekhov’s four major plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard) is the best American translation of Chekhov for the stage. Most previous translations have been done by British translators, and so the dialogue still feels awkward when transferred to the American stage. The only rival to Rocamora’s work is Paul Schmidt’s, but his approach was radically contemporary, removing much of the Russian flavor from the plays and making them sound like something straight off a Hollywood soundstage. Reading Rocamora’s and Schmidt’s versions together is a great experience, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, but if you’re going to produce a Chekhov play, or if you only want to read one translation, Rocamora is the one to get.

Reading Chekhov’s plays can be a strange, difficult experience. If you read them quickly or carelessly, you will more than likely come away wondering, “What’s the point?” Chekhov’s writing needs to be felt, and it’s usually best to think of it in musical terms, to discern harmonies and counterpoints. What he creates is not so much a conventional plot in which actions and characters develop as a full environment where passions ebb and flow, where time becomes palpable, where details accumulate into a full tapestry of life. Chekhov was the greatest dramatist since Shakespeare, and found no rival until Beckett. (Amazingly, he also revolutionized the writing of prose.)

This edition of Chekhov’s plays includes an eloquent introduction by the translator, liberally spiced with appropriate excerpts from Chekhov’s letters. There are also chronologies, a glossary, and a pronunciation guide. It is an indispensible volume.


ReadLit Team

 


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