A Russian mirror to Ireland: migration in Tom Murphy's the House and Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard.
Anton Chekhov, whose career was partially inspired by Henrik Ibsen, exerted an influence on many European playwrights, a number of whom were Irish, by producing "problem plays" in the style of "unflinching, analytical realism" (Leerssen 47). Specifically, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters were adapted respectively by Frank McGuinness in 1980 and by Brian Friel in 1981 for the newly-founded Field Day Theatre Company, in order to "bring quality drama to the people of rural Ireland" (Richtarik 196). (1) Thomas Kilroy, also a Field Day playwright, adapted Chekhov's The Seagull in 1981, not only transporting the action to "the wilds of Galway" but employing a peculiar language familiar to the Irish audience so that they would not be "lost in [the] polite vagueness" of existing English translations (Kilroy, "Seagull" 80).
Tom Murphy, having emigrated to London with his blue-collar family in 1962 and worked "on the buses or on the buildings or in pubs," gained first-hand knowledge of emigrants who were struggling in "Irish ghettos" where dwellers, in his own words, "carry a most curious guilt that they were very much inferior to the people they had left behind" (Billington 96). These Irish people, however, felt alienated or even distrusted when they returned home, which still breathed, to some extent, a xenophobic air with its religious and political sentiments. Witnessing "an extraordinary cult of violence" in these socially marginalized communities (Billington 96), Murphy has approached this ignored subject since his early plays. (2)
This essay aims to examine Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Murphy's The House which, through a recurring theme of searching for home, reflect not only the identity crisis but a fractured sense of belonging that people of the Emerald Isle bear under the impact of immigration and rapid globalization. It will consider whether the forced and voluntary migrations in the two plays can disjoin the social forces that tend to stereotype or marginalize the protagonists, whose alternative outlooks on human existence in a de-territorialized world attract our interest in an era of globalization. It will also demonstrate how the social denial of the formerly privileged underlines their sense of being uprooted, or rootless, and defies the traditional centers of power. Their roving experiences may suggest, on the one hand, how Chekhov reconsiders the serious nature of comedy; and on the other hand, how Murphy subverts the traditional Irish attachment to home(land) and initiates a search for the self and for a type of transcultural Irishness.
B. Murphy as an Irish Chekhov and the Chekhovian Comicality
What may have prompted Irish playwrights to produce an Irish Chekhov were the shared scenarios of social upheavals that broke out in both Ireland and Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. That is, the Anglo-Irish Ascendency and the Russian aristocracy were both about to collapse, and the middle classes were coming into major political and economic advantages from the old authorities. The rapid social changes, however, seemed to leave most citizens paralyzed in the face of the prevalent violence used against the politically and economically privileged. These minorities were now nearly incapacitated politically, were vulnerable, and not all were able to seek shelter elsewhere. The mental parlaysis concerning the political and social violence mirrors the almost numb conscience that many modern Irish writers aimed to penetrate. (3) The recurring theme of home in Murphy's works corresponds, interestingly, to that in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, where the conditions that presaged the Russian Revolution offered everyone a chance to be relocated to a new place or position, although not necessarily a secure one. It can be noted that Ireland, as a globalized state in progress at the present time, may share some social features with Russia during its revolutionary era, in the sense that the divides between social classes were greatly reshuffled in Russia and the Irish ethnic landscape is currently being fundamentally revised with the arrival of non-white newcomers. Murphy's contemporary Irish adaptation of a Russian classic, The Cherry Orchard, in a setting that would be more familiar to Irish audiences and embracing the theme of immigration, therefore implies not only public uneasiness about the immigrant Other but also the playwright's efforts to make both new and old residents feel at home--through the theatre as a public venue. (4)
The Cherry Orchard is a groundbreaking work in the history of Western theatre. On the one hand, despite the fact that Chekhov specified that this play was "A Comedy in Four Acts," he was experimenting with a new dramaturgy which was too difficult for the then director, Constantin Stanislavski, and the actors to comprehend properly before it was premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904. Chekhov, who was ill with tuberculosis at the time and had only a few months to live, was not happy with the premiere performance, criticizing the production for being "all wrong, the play and the performance. That's not what I saw, and they couldn't understand what I wanted" (qtd. in Rayfield 241).
Having had a grandfather who worked as a serf whose "blood [had been squeezed] out of himself drop by drop" (Frydman 31), what Chekhov wanted was not a drama of frustration, which was what Stanislavski imposed on his audiences, but a "comedy" in which they could feel cleansed or redeemed, rather than being given a short pleasurable escape from the ongoing social and political turbulence that they were experiencing in daily life outside the theatre. In other words, redrawing the map of political and economic power in pre-revolutionary Russia and exhibiting "how bad and dreary your lives are," should not, according to Chekhov, upset audience members but, "should [they] realise that, ... they will most certainly create another and better life for themselves.... It will be quite different, quite unlike our present life!" (qtd. in Magarshack 49). Specifically, in The Cherry Orchard and The House--the latter an Irish adaptation of the former with an intertextual and revised storyline--the aristocrats must relocate themselves elsewhere, which may imply the awakening of their slumbering society; more significantly, both playwrights create fresh perspectives on the past for their contemporaries. The collapse of the aristocracy may not in itself be a cause for distress, as the characters involved can somehow look forward to the changes with courage and hope, as the playwrights show.
People who are forced to leave home, emigrate, or fall into another social stratum, will most likely become roamers who have trouble claiming a physical location as home but will feel themselves to be constantly in transit: either coming or going home, or looking for one. This condition is applicable to a state in the process of globalization, such as Ireland, where migration has significantly altered or disturbed the locals' sense of neighborhood and the world, "representing] a virtual invasion of the home ground, tradition and a sense of national or communal identity" (O'Malley-Younger and Herron 149). Those who are entitled to a new identity would not feel settled but bear a sense of "internal exile" which, in Ien Ang's words, makes "displaced peoples ... cling to a primordial notion of ethnic identity ... as a secure sense of origin and belonging, and roots" (18). Being an "internal exile" is also a common experience for those who feel intimidated by ethnic newcomers or those who have newly returned, due to which the boundaries between home, state and the world have become amorphous and the natives cannot stay as they are but have to expand the territory of their "imagined community." (5)
It should be noted that the subversive nature of The Cherry Orchard, the predecessor of The House, lies in nomadism, a type of modern life observed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari that prompts characters to migrate from one place to another. According to them, being nomadic can be a physical or mental condition, or both, and one may not have to move out of "home," or into exile, in order to feel that one's identity has been assimilated with or negated by external forces. Migration, in other words, can be mentally or geographically conditioned and proceed along different routes, having "no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things ... it is alliance and conjunction which uproots the verb 'to be'" (Deleuze and Guattari 24). It is thus interesting to note that Murphy's adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, produced at the Abbey Theatre in 2004 (four years after The House, in which Murphy actually resets Chekhov's materials in 1950s Ireland), touches upon relevant issues of migration to which all the Irish, natives or newcomers, are subject in different ways. Although the characters involved all migrate, sometimes unwillingly, from one state to another or from one social class to another--usually to a lower position--they become exiles within their own communities.
C. The Cherry Orchard (1904): A Modern Comedy of Russian Aristocrats in Decline
Although there have been numerous versions in English, (6) Murphy's 2004 Irish version of The Cherry Orchard is largely subversive in terms of his agenda to "re-create what was alive, musical and vibrant in the original.... [but] avoid looking like the back of the tapestry" (Murphy, Preface 2). His remark implies his reservations about other translations and his hope for an Irish version which not only keeps the "'spirit' of the original ... [but] translate[s] that 'spirit' into a language and movement that have their own dynamic," rather than working on Chekhov's work "line by line or speech by speech" (Murphy, Preface 2). Significantly, Murphy's version testifies to Chekhov's innovative approach of creating subtexts, or inner lives for his characters, which makes translation into other languages either impossible or "interpretively open," as Murphy himself indicates (Preface 2). (7) What is extraordinary about Murphy's version, therefore, resides in the losses and gains that occur when making a Russian play "our own" with cultural and linguistic references that are closer to Irish local audiences. Specifically, the ambiguities in Chekhov's subtexts make little allowance for a definitive interpretation of the play, allowing directors, actors, and translators to render the play with an open approach, while many of them do not acquire any knowledge of the Russian language. (8)
That The Cherry Orchard can be regarded as a comedy, as Chekhov intended, has to be understood in the context of its first production in 1904, when Europe had been turning itself upside down as emerging forces were eager to claim positions of power. That is, the fin de siecle that marked the bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had made Europe simmer with uncertainties, depression, and moral degradation. In Russia, the ongoing industrial revolution, the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the supply of free labor to the cities, the growing political influence of the middle class, and revolts against the rule of the tsars, including the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, had produced a state of near anarchy. These conditions are brought to light in this play in which "people are starving, sleeping in the streets, sleeping in sheds or thirty/forty to a room, with fleas, in filth and damp, and all leading to foul language, greater ignorance, obscenities, eruptions of mindless, barbaric violence, immorality," while the rich "sit around talking" and highbrows "make speeches about the eighties and the Decadent Movement and the seventies--to the poor waiters!" (9) Having lost faith, lifestyle and values, Russians in Chekhov's time could hardly be expected to have a clear sense of direction for their future, whether at the personal or national level. The collective uneasiness of society as a whole--caused by political agitations and economic problems--cannot be healed with a farce or a simple comedy which entertains audiences with nightly pleasure or a moment of escape. Although The Cherry Orchard is set amidst the social distress and angst of Chekhov's time, it is not a play about the uncertain future of Russia but one with hope and love shown through its seemingly trivial dialogues and subtexts.
Interestingly, few characters in The Cherry Orchard remain on a fixed political or economic level in their changing times, including the servants who have lived off the fringe benefits of the estate. The privileged members of the Ranyevskaya family are all about to move or have been on the move, and those who serve them or rely on their leftovers are forced to find new jobs or shelter elsewhere. It may be argued that those who intend to look for a job outside the old aristocratic realm correspond to a postmodern mode of human existence "where individuals overcome repressive modern forms of identity and stasis to become desiring nomads in a constant process of becoming and transformation" (Best and Kellner 77). What the Ranyevskaya family experiences, as do their servants, is consonant with the uncertain future that Russian civilians face, whatever their social standing.
The turmoil in Russian society therefore prompts all the characters in the play to dismiss an outdated and repressive identity so as to welcome a vibrant and newly given one. Take Anya, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Lyubov, for instance. She has been exiled with her mother since the age of twelve and has longed to come home: "I'm home! Tomorrow when I wake up I shall be here ... I shall run out and into and through the orchard" (Cherry Orchard 10). The bankruptcy of her family, however, makes her more down-to-earth and willing to be a "career woman"--which is unprecedented in her aristocratic family: "I'll get a job--a job! And I'll be able to help [my mother]" (Cherry Orchard 69). She actually leaves the estate "laughing," as Chekhov specifies: "Goodbye, old house, goodbye, old world!" (Cherry Orchard 75). Varya, the adopted daughter of Lyubov, having been an experienced governess on the estate during Lyubov's five-year absence, decides to work later as a housekeeper in Ragulins. This is, however, a laborious job and she can no longer keep a high profile as before but has to take orders from a new (middle-class) employer. Gayev, Lyubov's fifty-one year old brother, takes a positive view of the sale of the estate: "Now that it's all been decided, once for all, we're calm. We're even quite cheerful, hum? ... I've landed on my feet: banker now, financier now" (Cherry Orchard 68).
While they are bidding farewell to each other and to the old house, "more evidence of their happiness" is in the air that makes everyone feel "well-up within" (Cherry Orchard 69, 74), rather than being bitter about the decline of aristocratic traditions. Different from Lyubov's despondency about the loss of the estate, Anya's optimism is vivified when she comforts her mother by saying that leaving the homeland will bring another chance to "plant a new orchard, a better one, you'll see, you will, and like the sun in the evening it'll all make sense, and you'll smile" (Cherry Orchard 61). Most significantly, it is the sense of loving and being loved, as Anya talks gently to her mother, that soothes Lyubov's grief for the loss of the cherrylands and prompts everyone to embrace the changing times in higher spirits, instead of taking the loss with deep regret: "Why are you crying? Cherry orchard is gone, that's true, but your life too is out there in the future. My beautiful mother, I'm so grateful to you. I'm so grateful for you. I bless you, I love you" (Cherry Orchard 61).
Urban industrialization and the sale of the cherry orchard are the two main forces that tear the aristocratic family apart, but they prompt all the characters to proceed into new walks of life. Lopakhin, taking over the cherry orchard as the son of a former serf, is planning to build summer cottages there for middle-class holidaymakers, so as to make more money. He will presumably gain access to echelons of the upper-class. It can be assumed that the fortune this parvenue will make will not bring him peace of mind but he will constantly feel uprooted from the land where he shared childhood memories with the Ranyevskayas. He will no doubt experience "internal exile" within the state for being a single individual in an industrial mechanism (Naficy 3), moving upwards or downwards among different social classes. Pishchik, who starts to buy neighboring plots of land, piece by piece, near the cherry orchard--with loans from poppy-grower Lopakhin--soon turns into a parvenu. White clay is found on his new land by china makers who offer to rent it on a twenty-four year lease (Cherry Orchard 71). Joining with Lopakhin, he will supplant the Ranyevskaya family as the new landed gentry, and be subject to a new, perhaps vicious, circle of capitalistic operations. Ironically, it is the land that turns him into a nouveau riche, whereas the land also causes him to be an exile--metaphorically, as he can no longer make himself at home in this estate as before, while Russia is being geared for a new capitalistic and mechanistic world.
Chekhov, however, does not favor any particular party in The Cherry Orchard but is critical of the political ideology, namely Marxism, that has become important in pre-revolutionary Russia. He indirectly makes fun of Petya, a disciple of Marxism and a former tutor of Lyubov's son, for the intellectual paradoxes he gets himself into. That is, although Petya boldly accuses Ranyevskaya, in Marxist terms, for her "sin" of enslaving "living souls" to operate the cherry orchard, distrusting romantic love between any couple for fear that "petty illusions" will undermine "where we're headed" (Cherry Orchard 43), Chekhov does not endorse Petya's radical thoughts but, through the words of Lyubov, stresses the significance of loving and being loved. More specifically, Lyubov, as a mother with a lost son, a widow, and a woman who has broken her marriage vows but has also been deeply hurt by her relationships, sees Petya as "my dear young good philosopher ... [who is being blown] ... from pillar to post" (Cherry Orchard 51, emphasis added). In other words, Lyubov, compassionately, is distressed at seeing the young philosopher being manipulated by political ideologies and refusing to transcend any human suffering or understand her mixed life experiences.
The Cherry Orchard is often wrongly perceived as a tragedy, in that the Ranyevskaya family is forced to fall from its privileged position. Members of the family either go into exile or have to make ends meet at best they can. Lyubov, for instance, has no choice but to depart grudgingly for Paris to live with a dying lover who offers her shelter. Both of her daughters have to look for jobs to support themselves. Her brother, Gayev, at the age of fifty-one, finds his first job in order to earn a living. The family seems to fall to pieces and there will hardly be a foreseeable reunion during the rest of their lives. However, the comicality of this play lies in the financial and mental relief of the Ranyevskaya family upon the sale of the cherry orchard. They are now free of their ancestral burden and are not likely to be left behind during the process of modernization: "The sound of a breaking string (a metallic twang) ... and the sound of the axe on the trees" can be heard at the end of the play. These sounds are not necessarily ominous but signify the arrival of a new life. This celebrative subtext is reinforced by Lopakhin's offer of champagne to the Ranyevskaya family upon their departure, and Petya's final speech, "hail, new life! (He goes, cheerfully.)" (Cherry Orchard 75). The air of joy is accentuated by the healthy return of Firs, a male servant who is discharged from hospital after Lyubov leaves. None of these characters suffers any devastation at the end; they are able to stand firm in their new life. This essay will now examine how this Chekhovian "comedy" is fused with Irish migrant experiences and social change in The House, and the discussion will be deepened by questions about the insular social discourse as it works against returned Irish emigrants.
D. The House (2000): The Cherry Orchard in Ireland and Its Revised Ending
Something that often troubles producers and audiences of The Cherry Orchard is the understated plots and disjointed dialogues with which Chekhov turned over a fresh page of realistic dramaturgy. His theatrical experiment caused not only the failure of its premiere--in the eyes of the playwright--but that of reviewers to understand Chekhovian aesthetics. For instance, Zinaida Gippius, among other early critics, maintained that the play was "unperformable," thus launching an "anti-Chekhovian school of criticism" (Rayfield 241). Rather than reproducing popular melodramatic elements, the implicitness in Chekhov's dialogues, on the one hand, mirrors the stagnancy of "real life" in which, as the playwright observes, "after all, ... people don't spend every moment in shooting one another, hanging themselves, or making declarations of love. They do not spend all their time saying clever things" (qtd. in Valency 249). On the other hand, the indirectness of Chekhovian aesthetics allows considerable room for adaptations or translations in different cultural contexts across language barriers. The realistic dramaturgy which Chekhov accomplished therefore enriches the interpretative strategies of drama. His theatre--often instilled with subtexts--strategically allows non-definitive interpretations to develop, paving the way for creative adaptations or inter-texts, rather than "spell [ing] the death of invention" that would probably suffocate the theatrical arts (Dixon 97).
Based on this premise, Murphy's The House, set in the 1950s in an Irish ambience, may be suitable for examination as a work intertextual with The Cherry Orchard. This Irish adaptation featuring an Anglo-Irish family in decline has an explicitly nostalgic atmosphere in its characterizations, dialogues and stage effects, interrogating the conventional ideal of "home" in a soon-to-be globalized Ireland. The playwright, having experienced life in Newcastle in the 1950s as a young emigrant working "on the buses or on the buildings or in pubs, [living in] predominantly Irish ghettos.... [with] an extraordinary cult of violence," empathizes greatly with those "having a sense of being betrayed by the country of their origin ... [and] also [feeling] that they had betrayed that country" (Billington 96). The affinity between Chekhov's Russian gentry and the Anglo-Irish Ascendency, alongside Murphy's understanding of The Cherry Orchard, which he went on in 2004 to adapt/translate for the Abbey Theatre, is the reason why he revamped Chekhov's play with an Irish flavor. More specifically, what is shared in both plays is that both the Russian gentry and Anglo-Irish Ascendency had been swept away politically and culturally as new states developed, being intimidated by revolutionaries and emerging political elite and, in economic terms, failing to hold on to their property--inherited from their forefathers--in the face of drastic social changes. (10)
One slight but significant difference is that the Anglo-Irish presence in The House implies historically a foreign, English operation in Ireland, whereas the Ranyevskayas in The Cherry Orchard share a coherent Russian identity with those "around and beneath them" (Kilroy, "Seagull" 82). (11) This cultural and political difference allows Murphy and other Irish playwrights to adapt Chekhov's plays to reconstruct a lost tradition, lifestyle, and culture that was once present in their homeland. The local flavor therefore "make[s] the Russian [characters] more real" and more accessible to a wider audience by expressing emotions "in a language we can understand, both more immediate and mediated by difference" (Kavanagh 18). The House, as a play after Chekhov, shows how the Anglo-Irish heritage crumbles but is later preserved by the returning well-to-do Irish immigrant Christy, before globalization overrides the insularity of Irish society and fundamentally revises the cultural core of the Emerald Isle.
What makes The House a play after The Cherry Orchard is its consonant but somewhat different plot in which two classes from the extremes of a collapsed social hierarchy are about to meet and make compromises: the newly emerged nouveau riche and the old aristocrats who are in decline from a formerly privileged position. Christy, who is like Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard in coming from a lower rung of the social ladder, has made his fortune by engaging in unsavory business practices in England. Both Christy and Lopakhin were born into working-class families and both lost their mothers at a young age. Both were given special care by the matriarchs of privileged families, respectively the de Burcas and the Ranyevskayas, and both grew with mixed feelings of attachment to the motherly figures who seem to carry the "original sin" of being aristocratic figures. Unlike other Irish emigrants who worked in the mines or on building sites, Christy earned enough as a "pimp" in London (Murphy, The House 212) to accumulate a fortune and buy the de Burca estate with little difficulty. For Christy, the de Burca estate, where he was nurtured and educated, has always been "'home' to him--at least subconsciously" (The House 187), and his attachment to the "trees, landscape, air, fresh air" around the house has prompted him to "rescue" it and to save the dignity of the family from going bankrupt. The de Burcas are akin to the Ranyevskayas in that both families are (agri)culturally aloof from the land that their ancestors planted, especially the de Burcas with "Norman blood sure from way back: it never left them.... They're--different" from the rest of Irish natives (The House 209). (12) In other words, both families have traditionally lived in a state of unity for centuries, whereas the unceasing calls for modernization and capitalization not only dissolve their traditional landed systems but force the two families to enter "a fractured state of exile" (Keating 176).
Notably, what makes The House "more real" to local audiences, compared to its Russian prototype, is the Irish characters' perception of their reality in a changing world (Kavanagh 18). Therefore, the "tragicomic" elements of The House are, perhaps as Murphy intends, more verbally effective than those of the subtexts of The Cherry Orchard.
In The House, Christy, which is short for "Christopher" meaning "Christ-bearing" in ancient Greek, seems, along with other returning Irish emigrants, to have a mission to save those in need in their home town by either sending money home or spending it in local venues during their summer visits. (13) Goldfish, for instance, who has returned from America, proudly asserts "we're bigger than here, we're--the energy" of the place (The House 285), and "flicks/pitches" with an air of patronage "his coin change into a corner of the floor" at a pub before he departs again for America (The House 282). Christy, although not as arrogant as Goldfish, harbors a similar attitude by taking pity on Mrs de Burca, a widow who "is worried about her three daughters and their futures ... and coming to a decision to sell the family home has been difficult and complex [for her]" (The House 235). Having no choice, as she is nearly bankrupt, Mrs de Burca is forced to sell the estate which was a dream place of "[her husband's] ... and mine," in order to make ends meet (The House 235).
The short summer visits of these more well-to-do Irish emigrants, giving immediate pecuniary relief to the locals, could hardly be more unsettling to their puritanical native town under the domination of the Catholic Church. Having no regard for their financial contributions to Ireland, or, more significantly, for the cultural dynamism which they bring with them, the local priest sees these returned emigrants as sources of pollution, accusing them at Mass of being ungrateful and morally suspect: "Guide all our emigrants down the right path abroad, stop them from ever straying, teach them abstinence and forbearance.... And keep them in mind of the land of their birth so that they may one day return to the bosom of thy heavenly mansions" (The House 219).
For these returned emigrants, home thus becomes a place of anger and disappointment, and also a place where, ironically, they feel rootless after so many years' exile and hard labor. Married to an English woman, Peter, one of the returned emigrants from England, for instance, has trouble identifying where he will be culturally accepted. His sense of exile becomes even more unmistakable in his Irish homeland, which is the subject of his dreams "about it and all" (The House 197): " ... a strange thing: I wakes up this morning. Was it early? Was and all, mate, was and all. And I'm lying there like I'm drowning. Like it happens (at) times, the other side, but does you expect it at home, ay?" (sic, The House 224). It can be argued that Peter, Christy, Goldfish, and many others in this play, all feel rootless and betrayed by their mother country, and are insultingly mistaken as English or American by local civil servants. It is ironic that these emigrants--as saviors of some kind--have been working so hard overseas to relieve the poverty of their siblings at home. (14)
Produced in 2000 and set in an unnamed town in the 1950s, The House serves as a faithful mirror to the painful process through which Ireland was transformed into a globalized state from a culturally closed society that celebrated the three "Fs" of farming, faith and family in Eamon de Valera's era. These returned emigrants and the last remaining Anglo-Irish Ascendency all witness a globalized Ireland beginning to take shape, although the process is not always emotionally easy. That is to say, all the parties involved pay a price, sometimes a very difficult one, when they have to make an unwilling choice for an unknown future. One of the three daughters of Mrs de Burca, Louise, in her twenties, has trouble with her drunkard husband whose business is about to collapse. Marie, in her thirties, having recently lost her husband, is planning to emigrate along with her widowed mother--with the money from the auction of the estate. Without "an alternative plan for here," believing that the sale of the house will "settle [three daughters]," and realizing that the "old life [is] disappearing" (The House 235), Mrs de Burca unwillingly makes the difficult decision to auction the house for the sake of the money it will bring. However, Susanne, the youngest daughter, who feels a deep attachment to the estate where she spent her childhood, is strongly opposed to the auction, for she holds that "even if I'm away, I belong here. I'd like to have some standing" here in Ireland (The House 234). She resents the fact that the family never consult her for an alternative view on the issue, so that she "could have come up with" some solutions (The House 234), and she threatens that she will not leave the house whatever happens, even if "it all fall[s] down" on her head (The House 235). These contradictory sentiments make the auction an emotionally difficult case.
Furthermore, the house--which has been on its current site for at least two centuries--is more than a symbol of wealth and status for established and potential dwellers, but is an active, if silent, actor in the social transformation, with its increasing market value that secures the last hope of the family for relief from financial and marital crisis, and for a new life after emigration. The house is also literally a death trap for Susanne, who drowns in an incident suspiciously involving Christy. Significantly, her death results from her failed attempt to block, single-handedly, the ongoing social transformation by obstructing the placing of the house on the market. To put it another way, the house metaphorically plays a silent but sinister role as it will stand more firmly in the coming era of capitalism. Christy and the de Burcas, alongside other immigrants/emigrants, are not the real winners but all suffer the consequences of being uprooted forcefully both from the land and from their traditional social positions. The house seems to be a voiceless but willful character that does not need any salvation or sympathy from any party but acts as a staunch, more valued body in a modern Ireland.
Satirically, none of the emigrants can be exempt from the prejudices at home, but at least they gradually revamp the local culture with an international flavor. Goldfish, for instance, who has acquired an American accent, wears "a gold watch, and a gold ring.... [and] his dress and vocabulary tell [his] story" (The House 194). Peter, returning from England, is overwhelmed by the Broadway blockbuster The Sound of Music, singing with pride the Irish version of its cover song: "I is for the Irish in your [heart]" (The House 203). Christy often tries to impress others by re-enacting lines from English films with a Spanish accent. Foreign film and singing stars, such as Bette Davis, Arthur Tracy and Paul Henreid, are often the common subjects of their chitchats. Peter, who is closely akin to Petya in The Cherry Orchard, acts with cynicism and hostility towards those who are suspiciously under corrupted foreign influences. (15) These people, unable to be religiously and culturally assimilated by the locals, form their own small community in the town, whereas their practice of mixing different cultural elements testifies to the process by which Ireland was about to open its doors to the outside world and the forces of modernization, despite many locals, such as Jimmy, holding a "supercilious ... and envious" attitude towards the returned "foreign" Irish (The House 194). To exhibit these complex and rapid social changes, the scenes of the play therefore switch between a local pub where emigrants make themselves at home, and the estate where the de Burcas manage to survive their last minutes together before the home is dissolved.
E. Conclusion: One Story, Two Spirits
It may be contended that The House and The Cherry Orchard both vivify the impact of migration on all walks of society, and allow audiences to see how intercultural exchange and modernization unsettled a xenophobic Ireland and Russia, and how local people resisted the cultural and economic dynamism brought about by social upheavals. However, in contrast to The Cherry Orchard, The House seems more explicit in portraying the critical roles that these Irish returned workers play during the modernization of Ireland in face of the prejudices against them. Specifically, by largely relying on background noises, such as the sounds of cables snapping and axe blows falling, The Cherry Orchard does not pinpoint so outspokenly how provincialism can uproot people from their beloved country and force them into unsympathetic exile. Venturing farther afield than those in The Cherry Orchard, the characters in The House are physically and mentally more rootless and restless, even though they have broadened the horizons of the locals and "the rolls of money they flash" give their motherland the chance of modernization (194). What modernity means to these returned emigrants in The House is not necessarily a high quality of life but a series of moves from one location to another, and an unending search for home. What makes the two plays similar, nevertheless, is the possibility of reconciliation between the new rich/middle class and the uprooted Ascendency. In The House, Christy, the buyer of the de Burca estate, and Marie, one of the former owners, shake hands at the end of the play--with mixed emotions. Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard offers champagne to the Ranyevskayas before they depart. Probably not feeling amenable to this gesture under the circumstances, none of them accepts his offer, apart from Yasha, the manservant, who drinks one glass after another. In both plays, the sense of reconciliation is apparently mixed with hope and implicit resentment before the curtain falls.
Some critiques of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard are often either complaints about the nothingness of the play, or accusations that the play is a nostalgic defense of the old regime. Some criticize the play for being only "an imitation of an action in the strictest sense" without much creativity (Fergusson 31). (16) Nevertheless, it may be justifiable to argue that Chekhov's creativity lies in his challenge to the notions of home and exile, and his empathy with what is now, after the 1970s, dubbed diasporic by cultural critics. That is to say, The Cherry Orchard and its Irish counterpart, The House, depict the experiences of human migration at times when society was evolving under the influences of industrialization and modernity; the direction of home, or a metaphorical homecoming, is no longer one way or linear.
As the two plays demonstrate, home is a motif much contested in The Cherry Orchard and The House. However, despite the similar storylines, the playwrights' approaches to home are different. Chekhov's approach focuses more on the impact of industrialization on the landed gentry and their optimism, whereas Murphy's concern is the losses and gains of the middle or lower middle class. The backgrounds of Murphy's characters are also more diverse, and their emotions towards social change are more straightforward than those in The Cherry Orchard, which are expressed through Chekhovian subtexts. The common feature of the two plays, presented in different cultural scenarios and historical eras, is the march of people towards "avowedly 'global' times" (Bhabha viii). A home, in the era of globalization, can no longer be simply defined as a place where a family resides, nor is it an abode to which everyone returns regularly. It can be a place that people visit infrequently or say farewell to, like that in The House. In other words, Home functions as a "powerful cultural signifier" by which one looks for more than just an existential shelter but a sense of cultural belonging (O'Malley-Younger and Herron 149). This sense of belonging does not have to be the same as that of one's siblings or fellow countrymen, but it is unique to any individual when defining who (s)he is or hopes to be, according to personal experiences.
It can thus be contended that, in The Cherry Orchard, Paris is where Lyubov feels at home and is loved by her many admirers, rather than the gloomy and bleak Russian hometown. Yasha, her servant, feels that he is more "made for Paris" than the cherrylands (Cherry Orchard 68). Lopakhin, though he has never been to Paris, "dress[es] like a Parisian" (Cherry Orchard 16). The returned emigrants in The House feel betrayed and alienated by Ireland for not only having been smeared as the bringers of evil influences but intentionally mis-identified as being English or American. These reverse immigrants all ultimately return to their new homes, where they probably feel more culturally settled and less emotionally intimidated. Ironically, Goldfish in The House seemingly cannot wait to return to America, and "reverts to his American accent" (286) long before he gets on board.
These reactions towards one's homeland and hopes for a new world suggest that modernization has deprived the home of its traditional power, and home is no longer a carrier of a definite cultural hegemony or nationalism availing of a grounded identity. Home becomes a location where many people stay temporarily, take a rest, and depart as roamers. Home is a destination--not a final but a mobile one--and a temporary shelter for people, especially those who break away from the traditional hierarchy that takes home as a basic unit. Nevertheless, although it ends tragically with Susanne's suspected murder, The House seems to re-interpret more elaborately the central motif of home which The Cherry Orchard fails fully to illuminate. In other words, The House illustrates more explicitly the contradictions between freedom and social discipline, deepening what Chekhov means about being an artist who is critically free of all ideological or cultural shackles: "I am not a liberal, not a conservative, not a believer in gradual progress, not a monk, not an indifferentist. I should like to be a free artist and nothing more" (Chekhov, Letters 63).
The ambiguities in Chekhovian language have prompted many successors in theatres across cultural and national boundaries to interpret the unsaid between his lines. The social phenomena he depicts from his own time, ranging from migration and class struggle to inter-culturalism, are common themes in a later, globalized world and nurture a power of subversion that helps create a space "nomadic, limitless, labile and in process, as opposed to primordial, essential and fixed" (O'Malley-Younger and Herron 150). This is a space where artists can meander inside a theatre--metaphorically--but start their journey towards a new home and search for a unique individuality. With the open endings of both texts, what Chekhov and Murphy embrace is the sense of liberation that, rather than being constricted by an existing social order, prospers by constantly moving and repositioning in the global village.
(1) Chekhov's one-act play, Swan Song, directed by Thomas MacDonagh, was performed in January 1915 at Edward Martyn's Irish Theatre. Uncle Vanya was the first of Chekhov's full-length plays to be introduced to Ireland and was staged in June 1915. Before the 1980s there had been a long interval before Chekhov's plays were produced again in Ireland, except for a production directed by Maria Knebel in 1968. Knebel was trained under Konstantin Stanislavsky. Her "traditional approach" was criticized by Seamus Kelly, for she failed to "make a greater impression [by having] the action ... translated into an Irish idiom and context" (Dixon 78). For a list of adaptations and translations of Chekhov's plays in Ireland, see Robert Tracy's "Chekhov in Ireland."
(2) Set mostly on the model of Tuam, the small town where he lived in the 1950s, these plays include On the Outside (1959), A Whistle in the Dark (1961), Famine (1968), A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant (1969), The Morning after Optimism (1971), and Conversations on a Homecoming (1985). A Whistle in the Dark and A Crucial Week were rejected by Ernest Blythe and Earnan de Blaghd, members of the Abbey Board, for their unsettling depictions of Ireland and its people, despite the fact that Whistle and On the Outside had won a number of manuscript prizes. Whistle was premiered at the Theatre Royal in London in 1961, and A Crucial Week was not staged at the Abbey until 1969. The London productions of these two plays were severely criticized by Irish critics in that "No blacker picture of the Irish has been painted on the stage"; "I never saw such rubbish in all my life" (Evening Press, March 22, 1962; qtd. in Griffin 17). Apparently, Murphy's Ibsenian approach to Irish life as being leeched by emigration found great disfavor among the Abbey's conservative management.
(3) Although works involving surrealism, magic realism, and stream of consciousness are not uncommon in modern and contemporary Irish literature, realism is still a major style of writing for Irish novelists and playwrights. James Joyce's declared intention to give "the Irish people ... one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass" has been firmly inherited by most of his Irish literary successors through different genres (Letters 2: 135). It can thus be contended that The House, written according to a realistic convention, aims to unveil the predicaments of a bankrupt Anglo-Irish family in the aftermath of the anti-British-rule movement, and how rapid-acting capitalism is the straw that breaks the camel's back in this play.
(4) Murphy does not read Russian. His adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, as he specifies on the title page of the script, derives from two literal translations by Chris Heaney and Patrick Miles respectively. Miles also served as Murphy's consultant in adapting The Cherry Orchard.
(5) The concept of the "imagined community" was developed by Benedict Anderson, who claimed that any community, regardless of whether it is large or small, national or provincial, is a product of the collective imagination of people who perceive themselves to be the same. Anderson's book, Imagined Communities, first published in 1983, addressed this concept in depth.
(6) There have been numerous English translations of The Cherry Orchard for productions in British and American theatres, and translations into other languages. Translators and adapters of The Cherry Orchard, to name a few, include Stanley Appelbaum, Libby Appel, Hubert Butler, Curt Columbus, Elisaveta Fen, Michael Frayn, Chris Heaney, Allison Horsley, David Lan, Elisaveta Lavrova, David Mamet, Stephen Mulrine, Richard Nelson, Stuart Paterson, Martin Sherman, Tom Stoppard, Julius West and Avraham Yarmolinsky. Frayn's and Yarmolinsky's versions may be the most often anthologized to date. It can be assumed, however, that many adapters, like Murphy, have no knowledge of the Russian language but have had to rely on other literal translations.
(7) Chekhov, dismissing the possibility of having his works translated equivalently into other languages, once made a skeptical remark as follows: "I can't stop them, can I? So, let them translate away, no sense will come of it" (Chekhov 357). However, the subtexts which he creates through silence, signs, and symbols, and broken sentences, allow open interpretations and have inspired many other dramatists to produce plays with Chekhovian elements in other languages.
(8) Take for instance the 1968 production of The Cherry Orchard, directed by Maria Knebel, who was trained under Stanislavsky. Knebel recollected that the Irish cast expressed empathy for the exiled characters who wished to return home. Their empathy may have been due to the fact that emigration had been a common Irish experience in the mid-twentieth century, during which "the young must abandon [their homeland]... which remains the site of childhood memories, and to which the exile feels compelled to return. Such notions were central to Knebel's Irish production, but were not imposed on Chekhov's play" (Dixon 78).
(9) Chekhov, Cherry Orchard 38, 33. Throughout, references to The Cherry Orchard are to Murphy's 2004 version.
(10) F.S.L. Lyons points out that the Anglo-Irish Ascendency "lived the sort of life that landlords lived everywhere [in Europe]. Shooting, fishing and hunting, interspersed with hospitality more lavish than they could afford--this was the framework of their lives" (Lyons 19). The Ranyevskaya family in The Cherry Orchard shares a similar cultural milieu with that of the de Burcas in The House, before both of them go bankrupt and cannot even afford their daily expenses.
(11) Murphy, however, is not the first playwright to give Chekhov's plays an Irish flavor. Thomas Kilroy, in 1981, had produced Chekhov's The Seagull. In this version, Kilroy reset The Seagull on an Anglo-Irish estate in the west of Ireland in the late nineteenth century. His producer, Max Stafford-Clark, agreed with Kilroy that "some English language productions of Chekhov tended to be lost in polite vagueness," and believed that "an Anglo-Irish setting would provide a specificity, ... [which will make the play more] comprehensible to an English audience" (Kilroy, "Seagull" 80). They both felt that "an Irish setting would more easily allow the rawness of passion of the original to emerge" (Kilroy, "Seagull" 80). This adaptation was produced at the Royal Court, London, on 8 April 1981, receiving some negative reviews, as it was seen as a new play, "not a translation, or a version" (Dixon 108). Kilroy nevertheless argues that he had dubbed it "After Chekhov" on its book cover. Notably, Brian Friel also adapted Chekhov's short story "The Yalta Game" in 2001, dubbing it "After Chekhov" as well as setting it in an Irish landscape.
(12) De Burca, which means "fortified hill," is an Anglo-Norman surname. Although the play does not mention the family history of the de Burcas but that of their estate, established before 1839, the de Burcas originated from France, migrating through Britain and on to Ireland in the early eleventh century. This landed family produced many earls, barons, scholars and poets who contributed to the diversities of Irish civilization. Variants of de Burca include de Burgh, Burgh, de Burgh, and Burke.
(13) Christopher was honored as Saint Christopher, based on the legend of having carried the Christ child across a river and being martyred in the 3rd century AD. Metaphorically, Christy and other returned Irish emigrants seem to share the same mission by carrying those destitute at home over to a more stable financial state.
(14) For instance, Goldfish, less emotionally reserved than Christy, complains of Ireland as a "fucking place [which gets] on my nerves" (The House 280). He was mistaken by a judge at court as being from England, whereas he "come[s] all the way back from the United States.... [and] I am from this town" (The House 282). He is Irish by birth but at home the court denies his Irishness.
(15) "Petya" is a pet form of the English, Scandinavian and German "Peter." It has different variations, including the Dutch and German "Piet," the Spanish "Piti," the English "Pat," "Pate," "Payatt," "Peto," and the Czech "Pet'a." Murphy's choice of the name, "Peter," may, on the one hand, correspond to "Petya" in The Cherry Orchard. On the other hand, Peter, the person, behaves like an Irish "paddy" circumscribed by insular ideology.
(16) The above is Francis Fergusson's paraphrase of negative criticism against The Cherry Orchard, not his personal opinion.
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[Received 4 Sept. 2012; accepted 28 May 2013]
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|Author:||Kao, Wei H.|
|Publication:||Fu Jen Studies: literature & linguistics|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2013|
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