When Tragedy is Dressed as a Farce


(E) I had the great pleasure to attend  “The Many Faces of Farces” last night at the Stanford Repertory Theater. The Stanford students played Anton Chekhov’s The Bear, The Proposal, and The Anniversary, and an adaption of Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 33 Swoons. Chekhov’s short stories are tragic dialogues and events dressed as farces that make you laugh! Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 33 Swoons is the adaptation of those same pieces.

In The Bear, a young widow confronts a man who loaned some money to her husband. When she refuses to pay, they moved from fighting each other to flirting with each other.

In The Proposal, a timid and unhealthy gentleman attempts to propose marriage to his neighbor’s daughter, while accusing his future wife and her father of disputed pieces of property.

In The Anniversary, a bank manager’s plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary for his bank when his wife and a lady from the street are widely and comically disturbing his plans.

The 33 Swoons explores the interplay of tragedy and farce, struggle and laughter, and dare to make the audience laugh despite at the time of its creation the Soviet censors’ claim that there was no place for satire in the Soviet Union. The 33 Swoons according to Meyerhold are the number of time, Chekhov directed his characters to “swoon”, a marvelous idea, quantifying exaggerated theatrical behavior as if that might hold it back.

But under Stanford Artistic Director and Professor Rush Rehm’ supervision, the Stanford students adapted the 33 Swoons to explore both their own definition of what is the “house”, a metaphor for the theatre, and how the house could be a place where solutions to global tragic challenges could be imagined.

“The Many Faces of Farces” researches the evolution of tragedy dressed as farces through laughs.

In the preface to his second edition of The Eighteenth Brumaire, Karl Marx stated that the purpose of this essay was to “demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part, claiming to restore France to greatness.” History moved from an age of imperialism and counter-revolution under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the First French Empire to a philistine epoch under Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte and the Second French Empire, his nephew and heir. As Marx famously wrote, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce.”

Are we living through a time of farce? How could we? We are facing so many frightening challenges: an often denied climate change, not enough resources to sustain our growing worldwide population, growing economic inequality between nations and within nations, and last but not least we could be edging closer to nuclear war!

But the political chaos both in the United-States and in many other countries might make us living through a time of farce and tragedy as the Many Faces of Farce could suggest to us.

And, we need to change that!

Note: The picture above is from the Many Faces of Farce.

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Categories: Arts