Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Revolutionary Theater class performed a pair of pieces collectively called “Chekhov in the Courtyard” yesterday afternoon in Kohlberg Courtyard. The class, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian Brian Johnson, showcased two one-act comedies by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.
The Bear starred Yelena Ivanovna Popova (Michelle Johnson ’16), a young mourning widow who begins the play by crying to her servant Luka (Michaela Shuchman ’16) about her late husband. A stranger named Grigory Stepanovich Smirnov (Aaron Matis ’16) soon arrives, demanding that he be paid a debt that Popova’s late husband owed him. Popova and Smirnov argue in a comic struggle of will and wit, as the audience gains insight into Smirnov’s view of women. He explains that though he once was fond of courting, he is now impervious to the guiles of the “fair sex.” He challenges Popova to a duel, which she accepts. Taking stock of her fiery temperament, Smirnov decides he is in love with Popova. The play ends with their kiss and a roll of the servant’s eyes.
The Proposal begins with a visit from Ivan Vasilievich Lomov (Philip Queen ’16) to the house of his neighbor, Stepan Stepanovich Chubukov (Sebastian Bravo ’13). Lomov is incredibly nervous about his imminent proposal to Chubukov’s daughter, Natalya Stepanovna (Nina Serbedzija ’14). Chubukov, after many “et ceteras” and “and so forths,” leaves the stage to his daughter and Lomov. Lomov and Natalya—who is unaware of his proposal—immediately get into an argument about a piece of land. Lomov’s frail heart troubles him throughout and he eventually leaves. When Natalya learns of the proposal she demands that her father call him back. This leads only to another argument, then what seems to be Lomov’s heart attack and death. After tears from Natalya, a splash of water from Chubukov and laughter from the audience, Lomov awakens. Natalya accepts his proposal and they begin arguing again.
Both of these pieces explore the changing roles of gender, class, and family in pre-revolutionary Russia. They speak to the volatile social atmosphere that Chekhov was able to capture in his writing. The two plays provided a performative aspect to the class’s coursework this semester and gave the audience a glimpse into revolutionary Russian theater, as well as some comic relief in the last week of classes.
Photos by Lily Jamison-Cash/The Daily Gazette