Every young acting student has this conversation with a teacher at some point, on being assigned a Chekhov scene. You go off full of purpose, your little yellow Samuel French script in hand. The cover says “Uncle Vanya, A Comedy, by Anton Chekhov.” Or “The Three Sisters, A Comedy, by Anton Chekhov.” Or “The Cherry Orchard, A Comedy, by Anton Chekhov.” You read the play, read it again to see what you missed, go back and say, “Um – I don’t get how this is a comedy.” And the answer invariably comes back: “It’s the human comedy.”
Fast forward a decade or two, maybe you’ve had your heart broken, seen your ideals collide with reality, faced foreclosure – whatever. You’ve come out with a more nuanced, less grandiose idea of your place in the universe. And presto! You get it. It’s a comedy!
Chekhov was a doctor, and he treats his characters the way a good doctor treats patients – with an unsparing eye for disorders like pomposity, hypocrisy, and our tendency to waste our lives by sitting around worrying about whether we are wasting our lives. But also with tenderness and a non-judging, all-encompassing humor.
Then there’s Oscar Wilde, for a whole different (equally unsparing) take on human foolishness. This stuff is just flat-out hilarious, and no one has to tell you why. We are very happy to bring Broadway to our screen for the first time. I’m going to let the actors speak for themselves here. I’ll only say that Brian Bedford (brilliant classical actor) plays Lady Bracknell, in what is already being called a legendary performance.
Now comes the really good stuff. Warning: off-color language. The actors, in full costume and character, performing text from Jersey Shore. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, here’s the brilliant Stephen Fry (you may know him as part of the defunct British comedy duo, Fry and Laurie – yes, Dr. House – or from a thousand other things). Click here to read his musings on Wilde and Chekhov, and for recordings of him reading Wilde’s fairy tales and Chekhov’s short stories.
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