The Idea of a Definitive Production: Chekhov in and out of Period


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The first duty of a director is to be loyal to his author. Or is it? It may be that this is one of those golden rules to which lip service is paid too easily. Perhaps his first duty is to "interpret" author to audience, thus showing a more responsible loyalty to both parties and doing the play real honor. Especially if the author is dead and the audience is alive, in another place, in another time, with another set of beliefs and traditions. Here is surely an issue for students of comparative drama: how are we to regard the notion of "a definitive production," a phrase used not as a pejorative but as praise? Michael Saint-Denis's production of Three Sisters for John Gielgud's company at the Queen's Theatre, London in 1938 received, in the Stanislavsky tradition, eight weeks of rehearsal instead of the usual three or four, and was thought by Gielgud to be "one of the most perfect examples of team-work ever presented in London"1 and by Laurence Olivier to have been the "definitive" production in English.2 There is talk in similar terms about Olivier's British National Theatre production of Uncle Vanya, presented at Chichester in 1963 and transferred to the Old Vic in 1964. There were early assumptions of the same kind about the Chekhov productions of the Moscow Art Theatre. And no doubt each of us has his image of a definitive production of these plays.

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