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Chapter 8: The Modern Theatre: Realism Robert Cohen Theatre 8th Edition.

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1 Chapter 8: The Modern Theatre: Realism Robert Cohen Theatre 8th Edition

2 The spread of Realism  Conservative European cities, Ibsen wrote an alternate ending, in which Nora stays with Torvald. But the hart-hitting honesty of Ibsen’s and other realist plays proved intellectually captivating in the major theatrical capitals, and realism spread rapidly as other writers followed suit. The result was a proliferation of “problem plays”, as they were sometimes called, that focused genuine social concern through realistic dramatic portrayals.

3 The spread of Realism (cont’d)  In England, Irish-born George Bernard Shaw ( ) created comedic realism, addressing such issues as slum landlordism (in Widowers’ House, 1892), prostitution (in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, 1902), and urban poverty (in Major Barbaba, 1905).  In America, Eugene O’Neill ( ) began his long playwriting career with a series of one- cat “sea plays” about merchant sailors and the down-and-out world of brothels and barrooms they returned to.

4 Naturalism  Naturalism paralleled realism but represents an even more extreme attempt to dramatize human reality without the appearance of dramaturgical shaping.  Naturalists flourished primarily in France during the late 19th century.  Émile Zola ( ) was their chief theoretician.

5 Naturalism (cont’d)  Naturalist plays offered only a “slice of life” in which the characters of the play were the play’s entire subject.  August Strindberg’s elimination of the time-passing intermission in Miss Julie.  La Ronde.

6 Spotlight: Stanislavsky and Chekhov  Konstantin Stanislavsky and Anton Chekhov were the two towering figures of Russian realism, the first as actor-director and the second as playwright.  Their collaboration in the Moscow Art Theatre productions of the Seagull (1898), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904) still rank among the most magnificent achievement of the realist stage.

7 Anton Chekhov: The High Point of Realism  Every Chekhovian character is filled with secret that the dialogue never fully reveals.  Show the clips of Chekhov’s Three Sisters

8 The Three Sisters  Olga, the eldest sister, is a provincial schoolteacher.  Masha, the middle sister, is the wife of a provincial schoolteacher.  Irina, the youngest, is vocationally and maritally uncommitted.  They are all in their twenties (act 1 takes place on Irina’s 20th birthday), they are orphans, and they have but one dream: to leave their remove village and move back to Moscow.

9 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  Oh, how awful that is! Just as one has a craving for water in hot weather I have a craving for work. And if I do not get up early and work, give me up as a friend, dear, doctor!  Chekhov’s way is gentle irony; it suffuses the dialogue until almost every word expressed seems to contradict the underlying sentiment of the speaker.

10 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  Irina’s inexperience and her idealism are betrayed a thousand times in her artless “why is it I am so happy today?” speech as she expounds upon her discovery of the verities of life.  Does she really believe it would be “delightful to be a workman who gets up before dawn and break stones on the road?” That is the life of a convict in Siberia!

11 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  Irina’s enthusiasm if fervid enough to be engaging but too shallow to be inspiring; neither pathetic nor Promethean, it is typically human and typically Chekhovian.  When Masha, the 3rd sister, speaks, we find she is given not to prolonged discourses but to apparently idle quotations and cryptic comments.  “Laughing through tears”, a chekhovian trademak.

12 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  A traditional silver-anniversary present, an utterly inappropriate gift for a young lady’s 20th birthday.  Possibly the doctor is Irina’s real father; however, true to realistic playwriting, this suspicion is never confirmed or denied by the author or his character.  Masha and Vershinin are destined to become lovers; their deepening, largely unspoken communion will provide one of the most haunting strains in the play.

13 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  It is a theme that strongly affects the mood of the play but is rarely explicit in the dialogue.  Inasmush as both Masha and Vershinin are married to others, their relationship is necessarily furtive; this circumstance contributes to a general obligueness in the play’s dialogue, as is evident even in the early exchanges between Masha and her husband, Kulygin.

14 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  Act 2 and 3, which are set approximately one and two years after the first, introduce no new characters and no new plot lines; rather, these acts serve to show the developing relationship between the various characters, the subtle changes that mark the passage of time, and the shifting of interpersonal dominances.

15 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  To discuss the plot of The Three Sisters is to interpret the play, for Chekhov has simply drawn the action and left it to audience members to come to their own conclusions.  Kulygin never directly address his wife’s infidelity, but when he say to her, “I am content, I am content, I am content,” we feel she gets the message – as do we.  The 4th and final act, in which the story lines are concluded though not resolved, remains subtle, oblique, and suffused with ironic indirection.

16 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  The final act for tying up loose ends, Chekhov in The Three Sister portrays an unraveling of such slight fabric as has been woven in the first three acts.  A propos of nothing acquire importance in life!  So it seems to me that if I die I shall still have part in life, one way or another.  This, one of the saddest scenes imaginable, achieves its almost monumental pathos by what is not said rather than by what is.

17 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  However, the eloquence of realism, as Chekhov magnificently demonstrates, consists on detail of dialogue and action rather than in cogent declamation.  Tusenbath’s “I didn’t have any coffee this morning” stands as one of the great exit lines in theatre, but the key to its greatness lies in its profound understatement.  It is a line out of context, yet juxtaposed against the passion of the dramatized moment it reveals a depth of feeling and layers of character beyond the reach of direct verbalization.

18 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  It is human fallibility – in expression as well as in act – that is the basic stuff of realism.  The farewell between Masha and Vershinin is the centerpiece of the final act, and it affords us the only fully explicit information we are to have concerning the depth of passion to which this relationship has led.

19 The Three Sisters (cont’d)  But this too is to be a scene without rhetoric, for the pair are vouchsafed neither the time nor the privacy to voice their feelings.  When Pushkin poem she recited in the play’s beginning, chanted to ware off the sympathy of her sister and husband – the latter of whom absurdly tries to distract her from her misery by donning false whiskers.  All Masha and Vershinin can exchange is a kiss, but that kiss outweighs volumes of poetry and rational explanation.

20 American Realism, Plays and Films   Eugene O’Neill   Expressionism   Film: The Cabinet of Dr. Callgari   The Hairy Ape   Clifford Odets   Arthur Miller   Death of A Salesman   Tennessee Williams   The Glass Menagerie   A Streetcar Named Desire   Film of August Wilson   Pedro Almodovar’s films All About My Mother, Talk to Her


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