Chekhov stories get new treatment by Theater Emory

By Emma Yarbrough | Emory Report | Feb. 11, 2013

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Three original adaptations of short stories written by master storyteller Anton Chekhov will be performed by Theater Emory starting Feb. 14.

With its 2012-2013 season, "Provocative Tales: Eccentrics, Beasts, & Misfits," Theater Emory welcomes audiences to what writer Marina Warner calls the "blue chamber where stories lie waiting to be discovered." It is in this enchanted space that audiences are invited to experience "Watching Chekhov Watching," three original adaptations of short stories written by master storyteller Anton Chekhov, Feb. 14-24 in the Theater Lab of Emory's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.

"Because this is a season of experimentation and new works, and because we felt it was time within our theater program to focus on the brilliant playwright and short story author Anton Chekhov, we launched the ‘Watching Chekhov Watching' project," explains Theater Emory's artistic director Janice Akers.  

Chekhov stared at humanity with a physician's eye, writing mesmerizing tales of daily life and the absurd complexities of human impulse. These complexities are made solid and transferred to the stage and screen through variant approaches to storytelling in "Watching Chekhov Watching" which features two live theater pieces and one short film. Each story is adapted with widely varying approaches, from experimental to traditional, with some staying true to the text and others creating entirely new dialogue and even including forms of audience participation.  

Michael Evenden, Theater Emory resident dramaturg and professor, adapts and directs "In the Ravine," one of Chekhov's most accomplished stories, describing the downfall of a wealthy rural family, using a variety of performance modes: highly theatricalized treatments of certain scenes, simple realistic passages, oral narratives, and even some passages projected and read as text. This treatment separates out the interwoven strands of gossip, the novel, high melodrama, and naturalistic theater that make up Chekhov's art and weigh them against each other.  

In "Antosha Chekhonte: A Childhood Suite," Lisa Paulsen, senior lecturer and director of Emory's Playwriting Center, adapts and directs a collection of five short pieces about children taken from Chekhov's early stories, when he was writing as Antosha Chekhonte. As with "In the Ravine," Paulsen and her cast employ a wide range of theatrical strategies to bring Chekhov's more experimental fiction to the stage.  

"The Joke," a film project adapted by Emory alum Nicholas Surbey and directed by Emory film student Nikoloz Kevkishvili presents a contemporary retelling of two stories, "Boys" and "A Joke." Using the basic framework of these stories, the film transports Chekhov's intriguing scenarios and powerful observations into the setting of a single American household.  

Explains Akers: "Directors are experimenting with some very interesting elements and asking fresh questions: How does the theatricalization of a short story shed light on how theater actually works? Why would we adapt a compelling short story to begin with? What do the additions of theatrical elements (lights, sound, etc.) add to simple storytelling in terms of audience experience?"  

Performances of "Watching Chekhov Watching" are Feb. 14-16 and Feb. 20-23 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. in the Theater Lab of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are $18 general admission, $14 discount category members, $6 Emory students and available at the Arts at Emory box office at 404-727-5050 or arts.emory.edu. For more information visit theater.emory.edu.