The University of SC Department of Theatre and Dance will present Platonov, the rarely-performed first play by influential playwright Anton Chekhov, at Longstreet Theatre, November 9-17.
The originally untitled comedy, written in 1878 when Chekhov was only 20 years old, was never published in his lifetime. Its four-act structure has been substantially abridged and adapted for this production by director Steven Pearson. The story follows a day in the life of disillusioned schoolteacher Mikhail Platonov, who proudly lives by the credo “speak ill of everything.” Platonov’s cynical wit belies a charisma that proves irresistible to the opposite sex, and as he descends into a downward spiral fueled by lust and alcohol, he finds himself entangled in a dangerous web of love and deceit.
Professor Pearson has an extensive knowledge of Chekhov’s works, having taught and directed all of the major Chekhov plays many times over his career, and co-written a trilogy of original works inspired by Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters, and The Seagull. The third in that trilogy, Flight (based on The Seagull), was produced at the University in April, 2018.
“A number of years ago I became really intrigued by Platonov,” says Pearson. “I could see connections between some of the characters in this first script and those that appear in his other plays, most particularly The Cherry Orchard, which was his last play. There’s a kind of youthful energy, and wrestling with the political and social stresses that were happening then. I thought it would be fantastic to edit it using some awareness of his later work.”
Unedited, Pearson says, the original script is “totally unwieldy. It’s about 5 1/2 hours of material. Anybody who wants to do it – and there have been a number of interesting takes – has to edit it, while staying true to his voice and the characters and scenes that he’s written.”
The play is a comic, almost farcical, take on the human condition that Pearson compares to Charlie Chaplin.
“It’s the structure of what Chaplin did in City Lights, where you have a serious moment that builds up, and just before it gets too sentimental, you undercut it with something falling on someone’s head. Chekhov had that sort of farcical sense. He was able to get the deep understanding of the juxtaposition of the serious and the comic, and what it’s like to be alive.”
The spiritedness of Chekhov’s young voice is perfectly matched to the university environment, Pearson says, and to the cast, which includes the new class of MFA in Acting students. The theatre program offers an intensive three-year course of study for graduate-level actors, many of whom come to the University after working professionally.
“They’re all really different, and have really different skills,” Pearson says of the new MFA Acting class, “but what I think they all bring is a terrific sense of humor. Not just being funny, although some of them are very funny, but they have a great appreciation of humor. You can’t teach that.”
Cast in the production are first-year MFA Acting students Sean Ardor, Tim Giles, Iuliia Khamidullina, Kelsie Hensley, Jennifer Moody-Sanchez, Gabe Reitemeier, Leslie Valdez, and Can Yasar, as well as undergraduates Olivia Hensley, Will Hollerung, and John Romanski, and theatre professor Stan Brown. Scenic design and projections for the production are being created by theatre professor Nic Ularu. The show’s costume design is by assistant professor of costume design Kristy Hall. Lighting design is by MFA design student Tyler Omundsen. Pearson is designing the show’s soundscape.
Ultimately, Platonov gives the audience a chance to experience a master literary force while he was still honing his craft. And, Pearson says, audiences will be surprised at just how funny he was.
“People have this notion of Chekhov plays that they are all serious, but they’re comedies. They’re about the human condition. We know what we should do, and we just don’t do it…and that’s essentially a comic experience.”
Show times are 8pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, with additional 3pm matinees on Sunday, November 11 and Saturday, November 17. Tickets for the production are $15 for students, $20 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors (60+), and $22 for the general public. Tickets are available online or can be purchased in person at the main box office located at Longstreet Theatre beginning Friday, November 2. The main box office phone number is 803-777-2551. Box office hours are 12:30 - 5:30pm, Monday - Friday. Longstreet Theatre is located at 1300 Greene St.
For more information about Platonov or the theatre program at the University of South Carolina, contact Kevin Bush via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 803-777-9353.