“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” The famous observation by Karl Marx provides the inspiration for Stanford Repertory Theater’s 2017 summer festival, The Many Faces of Farce, directed by SRT Associate Artistic Director Alex Johnson. Combining raucous performances of Chekhov’s classic farces The Bear, The Proposal, and The Anniversary, with a cutting-edge piece based on Meyerhold’s 33 Swoons, SRT offers a summer of hilarity and relevance. When each day brings new nonsense from the Oval Office, SRT focuses on the point where political disaster and the joy of humor collide.
Known for moving dramas of Russian country life, Chekhov began as a writer of burlesques for humor magazines, and a comedic vein runs through all of his plays. One of his earliest theatrical successes, The Bear, sets two headstrong personalities at odds: a young widow and the man who loaned money to her husband. When she refuses to pay, they goad each other to precipitous heights of nonsense. In The Proposal, a timid suitor’s attempts to propose marriage unleash a frenzy of accusations, recriminations, and (yes!) palpitations of the heart. In The Anniversary, a bank manager’s well-laid plans to celebrate a milestone run amok when a cascade of visitors storms the bank. These rarely performed comedies show Chekhov in a different key: fast-paced, sharp-tongued, and side-splittingly funny.
To complement these Chekhov classics, SRT presents a new piece based on 33 Swoons, the name that Vsevolod Meyerhold gave to his 1935 production of these same Chekhov plays in Stalin’s Moscow. Meyerhold dared to make his audiences laugh in spite of the censors claim that “There is absolutely no place for satire in Soviet society.” These same censors authorized the destruction of Meyerhold’s theater, his exile to Siberia, and his eventual assassination. SRT’s version of 33 Swoons uses his story to question the role of comedy and censorship in our current political world. Mixing archival with contemporary material, 33 Swoons explores the interplay of tragedy and farce, struggle and laughter, in a way that would make even Marx take note.