Minor Character: Chekhov with Many Mouths
Anton Chekhov’s seminal work “Uncle Vanya” has one author: Anton Chekhov. However, New Saloon reinvigorates the Russian drama with “Minor Character,” a collision of various Russian-to-English translations of the play ranging from a 1912 antique version to gobbdleygook spat out by Google Translate. Because of the numerous sibling scripts, multiple versions of the same character will often share the space simultaneously: three Vanyas would have a heated conversation with three Astrovs.
The text (or rather, texts) is the star player in this Chekhov rendition. My ear was drawn to the two opposite states between which the performance oscillated: asymmetry and synchronicity. With the former, an actor would deliver a thought, and then that same character would echo the same idea with a different vocabulary, just from the mouth of a different actor. These varying line readings, while not starkly contrasting, painted characters from different angles depending on the translation. One Vanya would be drunk, another morose, and the third apathetic, but they never felt confused with one another. They all were pieces to the same puzzle. The few moments of synchronicity came when three different actors playing one character fell into perfect unison. These quick bursts of harmony illuminated nuggets of Chekhov’s writing that have gone for decades untouched by a plethora of translators; even a computer kept them intact. My ears perked at these rare snippets. They came from jagged aural chaos, disappeared soon after, and my mind lingered on these lines which were more often than not concerning desire, a turbulent force that permeates every character.
Amidst the merry war between Anton Chekhov’s many spokespeople, the story of “Uncle Vanya” did not waver under New Saloon’s reinterpretation. The characters, while fractured into the multiple portrayals yielded by their respective translations, still maintained the same motivations and objectives. Many Chekhovian revivals have proved that Chekhov can and will stand the test of time. More poignant though is the charm behind the many scripts of “Minor Character:” no matter who is delivering these Russian words into our language, the characters and their relationships breathe underneath whatever vocabulary they are given.