An Interview with The Cherry Orchard Director Andrei Belgrader

“Describing Life, Ordinary Life”
An Interview with Director Andrei Belgrader

What attracted you to THE CHERRY ORCHARD?

I’m a huge Chekhov fan, basically more from his short stories than his plays, although I love the plays. I’ve seen a lot of horrible Chekhov performances. I’ve left a lot of them because they were long and tedious. I had seen THE CHERRY ORCHARD in Romania when I was a kid, a fabulous one by an amazing director and I loved it that one time, and I love to read it. But then I saw one after the other terrible, boring show. Knowing that Dianne Wiest wanted to do it just clicked it all together because I think she’s probably the most extraordinary actress who can do this particular part. And then with that, to talk about other people, it’s a great cast, and John Turturro who’s perfect for Lopakhin. I guess I think it’s a gorgeous play. I am a huge Beckett lover and I’ve done quite a bit… I did ENDGAME at BAM a couple of years ago, also with John. I love Beckett and I think this is as close to Beckett as any play ever comes, if for no other reason than because it’s a comedy, just like Beckett writes comedies, but with a lot of other things. It’s very, very deep but also very comic, and it’s a big challenge to get that and I think if anyone can do that, it is Dianne Wiest. In fact, I saw a performance of a play that I had previously despised, because I’d seen so many bad productions of it. It was Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER, so I went one night quite a while ago because I had to go and it was absolutely brilliant. It was with Dianne Wiest and I’ve never seen anything like it. And she was funny, too, her Hedda Gabler was funny. I was just blown away by it, especially because I expected to see a boring thing but it was an extraordinary, lively, and fabulous show that made me question everything. Made me re-evaluate that play, actually. The temptation to do THE CHERRY ORCHARD has to do with these two actors, and I think we got the rest of the cast pretty well too, so it became more and more interesting.

There is a big argument about the way Chekhov should be done, whether he was as serious as Stanislavski thought or more comic as Chekhov kept insisting. Where do you stand on this debate, particularly in terms of THE CHERRY ORCHARD?

I am very firmly in Chekhov’s corner. It is a comedy. It’s not just a comedy but it is a comedy. It has a lot of depth like Beckett does but I’ll give you a little thing that Chekhov wrote to Stanislavski and the others, here’s what he wrote, he said, “Is it my Cherry Orchard? With the exception of two, three parts, nothing in it is mine. I am describing life, ordinary life, and not blank despondency. They either make me into a crybaby or into a bore.” I love that. I’ve seen a lot of shows where he’s made either into a crybaby or into a bore. Now, there are two bad versions of THE CHERRY ORCHARD that I’ve seen. One is the typical Chekhov where everyone sits around for years, everything takes twenty minutes for something that should take ten seconds, and there’s a big samovar and everyone is having tea, and they keep sitting down and getting up and all that, and it’s a bore. In that version, the actors are often self-indulgently mulling or whining or whatever the hell that is, and that’s what Chekhov refers to when he says, “You make me into a crybaby.” He also said, “I wrote a 22-minute act and you made it into a 55-minute thing.” He’s probably referring to act four, which is pretty clearly marked by when they have to leave. Now that’s the one that’s mostly done, this kind of whining thing. There is another version that I have seen often, which makes it a super comedy where everyone is being ridiculously funny all the time, and that sucks too because it lacks reality. It’s interesting because it’s the same thing like with a play like WAITING FOR GODOT. I’ve seen the version that’s endless and you go to sleep and I’ve seen the version where they do these über clowns, where everyone’s making faces all the time and… it’s tedious. So, those are the two traps for THE CHERRY ORCHARD, too, I think. The truth is you have to find the reality of it, and you also have to find the comedy, which is in there. And again, I’m referring back to the short stories. Chekhov is by far the best short story writer in the world, and his stories are not sentimental. They are fast, furious, concentrated, very funny and completely tragic all at the same time. That’s to me the inspiration and that’s where I’d like to go with it.