Bowdoin’s Russian and Theater departments are collaborating this weekend to shine a light on the work of the renowned playwright Anton Chekhov. But the emphasis will not just be on Chekhov as a dramatist, but also as a philosopher, said Lindsay Ceballos, Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian at Bowdoin College. “Chekhov to me is interesting maybe more as a thinker than as a playwright, which is why this project is so appealing to me.”
The collaboration consists of two events, both of them open to the public. On Friday April 1st at 4pm, professor Yuri Corrigan from Boston University will speak about Chekhov’s play Three Sisters, and explore Chekhov’s work as a guide to the world of Russian philosophy. Corrigan is Assistant Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at BU. He studies the intersections among literature, philosophy, religion, and psychology in Russian and European culture, with particular interest in how prose writers, through the characters they created, became Russia’s de facto psychologists, philosophers, theologians, and political theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is currently working on a book about Chekhov’s works.
The second event is a staged reading performance of Three Sisters on Saturday, April 2 at 1pm, followed by a panel discussion, led by professor Corrigan. Both events are taking place in the Kresge Auditorium. Working with professor Ceballos on the project is Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Abigail Killeen. “We’re reading a new translation of the play, featuring several professional actors, including me. Chekhov is my favorite playwright of all time so I’m looking forward to getting this other perspective to see how it informs the artistic process.”
Hear an interview with Abigail Killeen (audio may take a few seconds to load):
Three Sisters was first performed 115 years ago at the Moscow Art Theater. Set in a provincial Russian town the play describes the lives, loves and disappointments of a well-to-do family of Muscovites, itching to get back to the bright lights of Moscow but stuck in what they regard as a boring backwater.
Killeen said she was drawn to this project because “theater artists like me have tremendous respect for Chekhov as a playwright, and scholars have tremendous respect for Chekhov as a scholarly figure.” But those two worlds don’t really talk to each other, she said. “So we decided to attempt this experiment to see if the scholarly views of Chekhov fit the artistic views of Chekhov and vice versa.”
For Lindsay Ceballos, the reason Chekhov’s plays have aged so well is because of the philosophy behind them. “Some may call him a proto-existentialist,” she said. “He presents his characters with such problems as how to find the meaning of life in the modern world, things that I think are still relevant today.” Although world famous as a playwright, Chekhov was also a practicing doctor. “Medicine is my lawful wife”, he once said, “and literature is my mistress.”
And Abigail Killeen thinks it was his work as a physician that helped inform Chekhov’s understanding of the human condition. “A doctor at that time would stay with families for a long time, nursing a patient, so he had opportunities to observe human dynamics in crisis over and over again. So when I read his plays or work on them, what continually comes to mind is the longing that we all live with for meaning and how infrequently that is realized. And I find that beautiful.”
Yuri Corrigan’s Chekhov lecture on Friday April 1st, along with the staged reading of Three Sisters and ensuing panel discussion on Saturday April 2nd, are sponsored by the Russian and Theater departments, with support from the Blythe Bickel Edwards Fund.