Review: Who is Anton Chekhov?

March 22,2010

Ok, in today’s age, an answer to the above question is just a click away. It is convenient but do we really grasp the information? Does the life of Chekhov unfold in front of your eyes?  And so the “Who is….” series from the UMS, was very informative and entertaining. And relevant. As it was looking at Chekhov’s life in order to understand more about “Uncle Vanya”.

“Who is Anton Chekhov” consisted of two parts- a presentation on Chekhov’s life by Professor Makin and a talk by Kate Mendeloff about the challenges in directing “Uncle Vanya”.  There was also a scene from “Uncle Vanya”, enacted by  Residential College students.

Professor Michael Makin, from the department of Slavic Studies, started this presentation on Chekhov, in his very charming accent. His delivery was quick and very erudite and it goes to show how well he knows the subject matter at hand. Anyway, so who was Anton Chekhov?

Unlike all the popular Russian writers who were counts or members of the Russian nobility, Anton Chekhov was born to a serf as the third of six  surviving children. He attended a gymnasium- comparable to our English grammar school. His father went bankrupt and fled to Moscow leaving his children and wife behind.   Anton joined medical school and also took over the responsibility for the whole family. To pay his tuition fess and to support his family, he wrote stories and sketches.

He became a physician and suffered from tuberculosis for a long time.  Chekhov didn’t take his writing seriously until Dmitry Grigorovich, one of the leading Russian writers of the time sent him a letter telling him about his immense talent. Chekhov’s artistic ambition bloomed and he soon won a Pushkin Prize for the short-story collection- “At Dusk”.  From being the son of an impoverished serf, he became a landowner when he bought the small estate of Melikhovo.

Ok, so how is this all relevant?

It is important for us to understand Chekhov as a person before we understand Chekhov as a playwright or writer- as most of who he was and what he valued can be reflected in his characters and work.  Well, Chekhov wrote what he saw and about a life that he was immersed in. His writings abound with references to the simple country life and the trials faced by a Russian in those days. It is also important to understand his background as to why he stands out from among the other Russian writers.

That said, Professor Makin told us that as a playwright, Chekhov was a flop initially. His plays “the Sea Gull” and “the wood demon” were fiascos when they were first staged. To some extent, they were way ahead of their times as they lacked the melodrama. They were waiting for the right people to act and direct it. Everytime, Chekhov failed as a playwright, he threatened never to return to it. But he always came back.

The innovative  Moscow Art Theatre found by Stanislavski for doing “naturalistic” theatre was what Chekhov needed. The production of “The Seagull” by Stanislavski was a huge success. Subsequently, Chekhov wrote his other plays for the Moscow Art Theatre  and “Uncle Vanya” is one of them.

“Uncle Vanya” is the story of Vanya (duh!), who is the uncle of Sonya (Actually it is a cleaned-upversion of “The wood demon”). He takes care of Sonya’s farm which was bequeathed to her by her now deceased mother. The two of them send the proceeds from the farm to Professor Serebryakov. The Professor marries a woman who is very young , Elena and sicne he can’t afford to live in the city anymore, he comes back to the country estate. This arrival causes such a ruckus in the lives of Vanya and Sonya.

So the plot is about Vanya feeling that he has totally wasted his life and what he does. Why Chekhov called it a comedy is unclear. Though it has a few laughs in it, I don’t think it is comedy.

Professor Kate Mendeloff  explained how Chekhov and his plays helped in actually laying out the foundation of the rules for all theatre and acting today.  The techniques and methods developed by Stanislavski are taught in every drama school today.

Residential college is putting up a production of “Uncle Vanya” which Mendeloff is directing. They enacted a scene from it. It was the opening act where the “long night” where the professor keeps everyone up by his constant griping is shown. It was interesting and cleverly done.

On the whole, it was a very interesting session. It made me wonder as to how how much of the writer was in the character they created and how much of it was what the writer wanted to be.

Review: My Story? …

First of all I just want to say wow… just wow. This production was so well put together and performed. It was incredible. Incredibly incredible. For those who don’t know what the “What’s Your Story?” event was, it is an innovative play, new this year, created from the stories of students around campus. Anonymous stories were requested and received and then retold through the talent of actors from our campus. It contained a spectrum of different stories, from ridiculous exploding thermoses anecdotes to dramatic coming out and soul searching tales. The show was deeply emotional, yet still provided us with the comedy that makes our weekends so great.

The Pendleton Room in the Union was a terrible choice for venue. It was way too small for the huge crowd gathered to attend. Many of us were left standing around the edges listening intently to each portrayal, the standing of which is really just a reflection of how big the event was. No matter, it was worth standing, and definitely worth the small $5/person donation requested. All proceeds went to a good cause to help high-schoolers in Ann Arbor: The Neutral Zone, which is a place that teenagers can go to hang out and to receive guidance.

There were so many good stories and amazing actors to relive them. The setting is a street in Ann Arbor where a table is set up with a woman collecting stories in anonymous journals. Actors approached the table and delivered their reflections to the audience. One girl read us a letter written for her ex-boyfriend. She explained what he had done to her and how he had so easily forgotten her once she went to school. It was such a great performance, the actress actually cried as she poured her heart out on stage.

Another one of my favorites was one about a girl that had a secret. She never told anyone, but she had spent four months in a psychiatric hospital for an eating disorder. No matter how close her friends were, she couldn’t bring herself to tell them, so she wrote it in this journal. And of course there was a great coming out story from the flamboyant and energetic guy. He told us all about how his Jewish parents accepted it so easily and tried to help him find boyfriends and about how the CAPS program at the University helped him through his own problems with his sexuality. His story was funny and emotional as it needed to be.

“What’s Your Story?” reminded me of Yoni Ki Baat’s show, except that it was about different issues. Both are poetic masterpieces, but in this case I think that the actors in WTS were closer to the pieces they were performing. Where I had seen disconnects in YKB’s show, I saw none in “What’s Your Story?” The actors all seemed more genuine and realistic with their stories.

I really hope that this show comes back next year. I think it would be an awesome production to take part in, whether sending in a story of my own or acting in. Leaving the Union (and heading to support friends at Dance Marathon) I started to think of my own story and its many values. That is what I think this show was trying to leave us with. And I am so glad that arts@Michigan was able to help put this on. Just another reason I should thank my fabulous employers!

As Always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer

Review: Ring of Steel For Real

Exciting! That is the one word that can be used to embody this event. So many magnificent swordfights and weapon expertise all in one morning really made the day start better than a cup of coffee does. They had the showcase at the Student Theater Arts Complex (which is down by Chrysler Arena connected to some kind of “plant operations” building). I had never heard of it before today, but I realized that it so far away because it needs a lot of room for all of the mats, props, scaffolds, and other theater equipment that this organization owns.

This open house was an interesting experience. While we waited for the show to begin, some of the other club members showed us the slew of weapons on display and described where they came from, what they were for, and told us the history behind them. It was very educational and we learned a lot about medieval weapons and their evolution through time.

The host of the show and leader of the group, the Maestro, began by telling us a brief history of “The Ring of Steel.” Apparently they have performed in venues from student productions to movies like “Hook” with Robin Williams and Disney’s “Three Musketeers.” Some of their favorite events are smaller, like a wedding in which they abducted the bride and than the “bridesmaids” rescued her back. So funny!

When the production began, it was exhilarating! So much fast movement and all of the clashes of sword collisions really got our hearts beating. The performers all had such aggression and concentration on what they were doing. And the passion…just beautiful. The actors were able to put stories into their scenes, from Shakespearean lines to funny babysitting battles. And they even used some parts from “Princess Bide” to liven up the show. It was great, especially since that is one of the best movies of all time (disclaimer: my opinions, no matter how correct, are not endorsed and do not reflect any specific opinions of art[seen] or the University of Michigan. They are mine and they are not considered theirs through affiliation).

We saw many different types of weaponry, including rapier, rapier and dagger, rapier and buckler, two-handed broadsword, staff, and the leather whip. There are 16 different classes of weapons that one can be trained in, and this group can train in most of the classes and also teach many of the stunts done in movies. The whip master was amazing! He had great stage presence, entertainment value, and comedy. He used plenty of targets, from flowers thrown from his own hand to a hat on his head, to show off his skill. We learned from him that the whip is the first human invention to break the sound barrier. The “crack” of the whip is actually a sonic boom! I thought that this was a really cool little trivia fact.

David Melcher-Whip Master
David Melcher-Whip Master

This group practices multiple times a week to build up an endurance. In movies they don’t show you how tired one gets after a few minutes of swordplay. But these actors were keeping it up and doing so beautifully. They are doing another show in May, so feel encouraged to look them up and go see their show!

As Always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer.

Preview: Maly Drama Theatre’s Uncle Vanya- You have to see it!

This preview is different from the rest. I am going to tell you to go see the Maly Drama Theatre’s “Uncle Vanya”. But when I tell you that it is one of the most memorable and brilliant  theatre performances that you will see, then I am speaking from experience as I already saw their show yesterday!

I have never seen anything like this play before. I am just so enamored of the way the play was staged, the way the characters came to life by the superb acting, the beauty of the play in its original Russian language and everything about the show that I felt that just going to one show wasn’t enough to write a review on it. So I am going again tonight.

As for the acting, it seems as if the actors were born to play the characters. The actors are just absolutely stunning. The female leads of  Elena and Sonya are breath-takingly beautiful.  I am just so in love with this production.

Maly Drama Theaters Uncle Vanya and Elena
Maly Drama Theatre's Uncle Vanya and Elena

Anton Chekhov,a playwright who got recognition late, got everything right in this play. I will tell ya tons and tons about this play. Just promise me that you will see it.

Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya

Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg

Lev Dodin, artistic director

Saturday, March 27, 8 pm
Sunday, March 28, 2 pm

Power Center

Yous in love with Chekhov and the Maly Drama Theatre,

Krithika, for [art]seen

Review: Gender Bender Splendor

It was a fantastic night at Necto (and I didn’t even stay for the dancing part!) thanks to the Stonewall Democrats. The Gender Bender Revue took place at the famous nightclub on East Liberty St. this Friday night. And oh man, was it fantastic! Drag queens and performers galore. It was faaaannnn-tastic!

Victor and Christian, the MC’s (sorry, I can’t remember Christian’s drag name, but Victor was Queen V), made the show so funny. It really felt like a classic drag show because of these two and their stage presence. They started the show with their own number “Janet Jackson: On and Off tour” in which both played Ms. Jackson, one on tour, and the other off. Their Lip-sync was awesome. I had never seen Victor do Drag and he and Christian both had Janet to a t.

Next, one of my favorite groups on campus performed, The Compulsive Lyres! One of our fantastic a capella groups. They sang a medley of popular club songs which was perfect for the setting, as these are the songs DJ Mark plays pretty often down in the Red Room. There were some minor technical difficulties, but the Lyres picked it up and plowed through it without a second thought. Great talent, excellent performance!

After them there were two more drag queen lip-syncs, A Britney Spears song-Toxic, and a song about girls and pearl necklaces. Both were very sensual and creative expressions of gender and invaluable additions to the show.

And then…Johnny Moans… A comedian. He was incredibly funny, he really was, but I guess I prefer a different kind of comedy. He used all of the stereotypes and infamous things about Gay culture to produce comedy, and though most of it was funny, he was incredibly obnoxious and oppressive….to everyone. Plus he had this really awful mustache :).

And of course, we had to have some Lady Gaga, so another wonderful queen got on stage and played his own version of Gaga’s songs. This medley put together “Telephone,” “Poker Face,” and “Bad Romance,” in a striking interpretation of her music. It was an acoustic piece with the voice of an angel (at the least the sort of angel you’d see on LOGO’s “Nonsense Revolution”).

There were so many great acts, including a Michael Jackson interpretation, a Justin Bieber impersonator, and a group piece by the E-board of the Stonewall Dems. They hosted a raffle with prizes and Potbellies provided food during intermission. The event was great. The publicity must not have been what they expected though because the turn out was less than acceptable. The Revue had so much talent and was set up so well, plus it was only $5 for entrance to Necto for the entire night. I don’t really understand, but I guess there are a lot of things happening this weekend, so many in fact that I have to pick and choose my own events. In fact, it is a very very busy weekend. Get out there and see a show! It is one of my very favorite parts about college.

As Always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer.

Preview: What’s Your Story? Good Question

A story of an actor that lets strangers write their stories in anonymous journals and the lives that are recorded inside their pages, this play is supposed to be deep and beautiful; heart warming, wrenching, and wringing all at the same time.

This brand-new production is brought to us by students of the University of Michigan. The stories collected here and the students acting them out are all UM originals. Together they tell us about the issues around campus, including racism, companionship, body image, coming out, love, death, religion, friendship, and so much more.

I can’t wait for this Saturday (the day I’m going), and even though this weekend is really busy when it comes to art events, this was number 1 on my list and got one of the slots that were free. You should definitely come out and support Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone, who all proceeds are being donated to. Here are the details:



What: What’s Your Story? A Play
When: March 26th and 27th @ 8:00pm, doors open at 7:30pm
Where: Pendelton Room, The Michigan Union
How Much: $5 suggested donation at the door

As always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer