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Professor Russian Interview

Interview with Prof. Art Horowitz à propos the Fall 2014 production of Uncle Vanya at Pomona's Allen Theater

ML: First of all, congratulations - it was a joy!

AH: It was a joy for me as well, it really, really was. It was one of the most pleasant experiences of working on a production that I've ever had. It just came together right from the very first time we read the play, almost immediately becoming a question of just fine-tuning.

ML: You must have anticipated some challenges, though, right?

AH: Oh yes, tremendous, especially after seeing so much bad Chekhov in American and English productions – mainly bad because they were so turgid. Boring depictions of boring people rather than sharp delineations of the problems that humanity faces every day just by getting up in the morning and trying to go through the day. My determination always was to try to find that incredible lightness of being, that which makes Chekhov Chekhov.

ML: There's certainly a lot of humor in the production. But many of my students were asking me “But well, is it supposed to be funny or is it supposed to be sad?”

AH: Of course, it is funny or sad, funny and sad, funny because it's sad, sad because it's funny. It was one of my concerns as I was watching the development of the character of the professor [played by Alec Long]: I didn't want him to come across as too much of a clown or a fool. Some of the best work I thought Alec did was in Act II with Yelena when he talks rather seriously and very movingly I think about how it's no fun growing old, “This is like being in a crypt”. There's nothing funny about it. It is the clear moment when we hear the professor express the same kind of longing that we hear from virtually every character in the play: “I want to be a part of things”.

ML: Another question our readers might find interesting is the translation – you are using Annie Baker's new translation that only came out in 2013.

AH: Yes, that word “creep”, for instance! I think that particularly doing a production with a cast of college age students using the most contemporary of the translations, and an American contemporary translation at that, was a huge advantage. It removes a considerable amount of the dust off of Chekhov.

ML: “Life is pretty boring…”

AH: Yes, or “Not good! Not good!” – there's an American vernacular quality to it.

ML: In one of his last letters to his wife Olga Knipper, April 20, 1904, Chekhov writes: “You ask me what life is. That's like asking what a carrot is. A carrot is a carrot, and that's all we know.” – "Ты спрашиваешь, что такое жизнь? Это все равно что спросить: что такое морковка? Морковка есть морковка, и больше ничего неизвестно". Do you think this is true of Vanya?

AH: Absolutely!

ML: But people want lessons from a big play like that.

AH: That's why I love Chekhov. He won't give you answers. He's not going to resolve things for you. This is the way people behave and he is not going to pontificate. The beauty of Vanya is that the play doesn't end, the play winds down.

ML: So what do we walk away with?

AH: What Sonya says to Vanya: “I'm going to endure this for the rest of my life, you can endure it, too. Endure it, Vanya, endure it.” The question Allegra [Allegra Breedlove, playing Sonya] had was how much does Sonya actually believe herself there? Or is this what she feels the need to say to Vanya at this moment just to get him out of the monumental depression he is in? I think the latter is closer to the truth.

ML: Looks like we are ending with a question.

AH: Which is what you must do with Chekhov!

ML: Thank you!