By Anton Chekhov
Translated by Marina Brodskaya
Introduction by Tobias Wolff
Stanford University Press, 2010
What can one fruitfully add to the title, a title which accurately and ably, without undue fuss or bother, describes the book’s contents?
Well, first one can expand upon it slightly. The plays in question are Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. So, all are what one can call Chekhov’s mature theatrical works.
One can also say of the translations by Marina Brodskaya that they are sharp and clear, pellucid, luminous even, beautifully sculptured; and that at least one English version (The Cherry Orchard) has been tried and tested in production.
There are a plentiful number of accompanying notes, each one to the point and not overly recondite. The notes indicate where one or more characters switch from the formal to the informal ‘you’, something that it is useful for a director or an actor to know. They point out as well quotations, literary and cultural allusions, Russian idioms and references to Russian customs.
Tobias Wollf’s introduction is in essence a fulsome appreciation of Chekhov’s life and work, and he deserves no less. The more you know about the man, the more you cannot help but admire him. His work is characterised by a near-objective observation of human behaviour and an ineradicable compassion: what art should aim for. Rosamund Bartlett’s Chekhov: Scenes from a Life should be your next port of call if you want an extended portrait.
These are admirable versions of the plays and this is a volume that I’ll return to again and again, and very soon. For instance, when The Library Theatre do The Seagull next year.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.