Recent Reading: Plays

I. The Visit [1956] by Friedrich Dürrenmatt – ★★★★★

A story is not finished, until it has taken the worst turn” (Friedrich Dürrenmatt).

“…feeling[s] for humanity…is cut for the purse of an ordinary millionaire; with financial resources like mine, [one] can afford a new world order” [Claire Zachanassian in Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, Grove Press, 1956/94: 67].

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921 – 1990) was a Swiss author and dramatist, and his play The Visit is considered one of his best works. The play is set in a small, poverty-stricken town of no importance Guellen. Its forgotten-by-everyone people can barely make their ends meet, and it is to this scene comes Claire Zachanassian, an elderly multi-millionairess who owns Armenian Oil and Western Railways, among other things. Guellen is her home town, and she brought with her for this visit an unbelievably large amount of money, as well as her husband, her future husband, her sedan-bearers, who are actually convicted gangsters, a panther and…a coffin, because…”she may need it”. It seems that everyone in town reckons that Claire would want to become a much needed benefactor to the town and its desperate community. However, the millionairess makes one shocking proposition: she wants justice for money, and the matter has something to do with her past and with her childhood sweetheart, Alfred Ill, now the town’s most esteemed citizen.

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Review: Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

Six Characters in Search of an Author [1921] – ★★★★

Luigi Pirandello’s plays are considered precursors to the Theatre of the Absurd and this play in three acts I read is one thought-provoking work that satirises the staging of a play, while muddling up such concepts as creation and performance, and an objective viewpoint and its subjective counterpart. In the play, a number of Characters come and gate-crash the rehearsal of a play “Mixing It Up”: the Father, the Mother, the Step-Daughter, the Son, the Boy and the Child. The Manager and the Actors are amazed to suddenly find on stage this group of Character-people, abandoned by their Author and eager to act out the drama of their lives. What then can the Manager do, but allow the Characters to try their hand at staging their performances? This play about a play is also an illusion within an illusion and a triple drama, of a book we read as play, of a stage to be set for a real drama, and, finally, of a play to come to “life” through an artistic vision gone haywire.

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Theatre: Anton Chekhov’s Play Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya [1898/2020]

I watched Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s celebrated play Uncle Vanya [1898], filmed at Harold Pinter Theatre in London in 2020. Directed by Ian Rickson and starring such names as Toby Jones (The Painted Veil (2006)), Roger Allam (V for Vendetta (2005)) and Richard Armitage (Hobbit (2012)), the story concerns an aging Professor Serebryakov, his young wife Yelena, his brother-in-law Uncle Vanya (by Serebryakov’s first wife), Serebryakov’s daughter Sonya, his mother-in-law Mariya (also by Serebryakov’s first wife) and a local doctor Astrov, who all try to come to terms with their different stations and situations in life. Uncle Vanya is living comfortably on Serebryakov’s estate, which belongs legally to Sonya, and “does nothing”, but the situation takes a turn for the worse when Professor suddenly announces that he would like to sell the house and the land. The situation is even more complicating because almost all men in the story are infatuated with Serebryakov’s beautiful wife Yelena and tensions soon reach a boiling point. This is a play which hinges on great performances and the cast delivers. This is a stylish and considerate adaptation of the play which has a very human drama at its centre. 

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