Loveliest of Trees the Chekhovs Now….

“I sometimes feel now it is just possible that, setting off on his journeys, he was not looking for something so much as running away from something.” — V. Nabokov, The Gift

“At the time of this writing, when ecological themes and the ‘rape of the landscape’ obsess us, The Cherry Orchard has taken on new life.” — Donald Rayfield, The Cherry Orchard: Catastrophe and Comedy

For anything related to A.E. Housman (”Loveliest of trees, the cherry now” and more from A Shropshire Lad and elsewhere) , see Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love and Ian Scott-Kilvert’s take on the scholar/poet; the primary poetic allusion here –”Loveliest of trees….”– is mandatory reading (for this piece of cherry pie), yes? For most of what’s worthwhile and delicious about my great grandfather Anton Chekhov see Queen Mary’s (University of London’s) Donald Rayfield out-of-print work…or me.

My specialty respecting all of the above would be the politics of the famous dudes and their dramatic art. But let’s get personal for now, shall we?

The great Norwegian playwright Henrik (Hedda his time) Ibsen deals in secrets revealed…as a rule; past shame unsealed. Not so with Tchekho. Nay, who is Masha’s father in The Seagull? How ’bout Irina in Three Sisters? We can’t be sure concerning Dr. Dorn in the former any more than we can be certain regarding Dr. Chebutykin in the latter. Clues are dropped along the way, but proof escapes us. And a number of productions with a pregnant Duniasha in Act 4 (touting hopeful fertility ‘midst the futility?) notwithstanding, there’s no paternity in The Cherry Orchard.

Yet he feeds a bloodline.

Long before Lidia Aviola, Daria Musina-Pushkina, Olga Kundasova and Lika Mizinova, among others, there was the little darling in Anton’s Taganrog…who wound up giving birth to a boy who wound up knocking three times on the ceiling with my maternal grandmother who wound up giving birth to my mom in Johannesburg…when my alleged grandfather –all wound up— wound up on a trip to South Africa from Russia in the early part of the last century. And for the record –which I have my personal reasons for wanting to remain less than crystal ball clear– Anton’s Jewish fiancée Evdokia (Dunia) Isaakovna Efros (Konovitser) is not the “darling” I alluded to above.

In the same vein, my sweet great grandmother did not work at the luxurious Roman brothel which Anton insisted upon frequenting following his politically-charged crusade to Sakhalin. Nor in the Blagoveshschensk brothel disguised as a Japanese hooker. And she wasn’t the black-eyed Salvation Army Indian cutie from Kandy, Ceylon –the legendary Eden– either.

He wouldn’t go –have gone– for an ordinary Dreyfusard Go-Go girl, that’s for sure. I know.

And I know that for all his emotional liabilities, indiscretions and avoidance of ideological embrace, he laced his life with compassion, fathering –by no means in the theatre only– greatness.

So…about the woodlands I will go, to see the cherry hung with snow.

Richard Oxman, rmoxman@yahoo.com, is a former professor of Dramatic Art who –whilst firmly believing that Anton’s bloodline stopped dripping with a barren, naughty Olga Knipper in 1904– taught (for three decades) The Cherry Orchard as progenitor of modern drama from Artaud to Pinter. All in a very socially-conscious lode.