Acting Chekhov: Plums

Excerpt from The Actor’s Chekhov: Nikos Psacharopoulos and the Company of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, on the Plays of Anton Chekhov:

Interview with Olympia Dukakis:

Something very interesting happened the first time I did Paulina in The Sea Gull. She comes to them in the third act, and says, “Here are the plums for the journey.” And when I was researching it I thought, why is she giving him plums for the journey? It always seemed like she was a batty person! And then I began reading what it was like to go on a journey then. There was a long time on the train, it was very difficult, the food was very bad, people would get diarrhea, constipation. And when I read that I knew what it was! Bowel movements! So, I mean, I could play that! That’s something that’s a private thing, you don’t announce it to everyone. I mean, if I came up to you and you were going on a trip and I said, “Here’s some Ex-Lax,” I wouldn’t make a big announcement! I would try to be confidential about it. So that helped me with how the moment should be acted. But even then, I thought the audience doesn’t know this, they don’t know that that’s what plums are about. The line should be prunes! An audience will know prunes.

Now the word in the text is plums, there’s no getting around it, the specific literal translation was “plums”. At least that’s what I was told again and again by Kevin McCarthy. Because Kevin had been in that production with Mira Rostova, he considered himself the big Chekhov expert among us. He didn’t think it should be changed. As usual I didn’t go up to Nikos and say, “Listen, I think we should change this, blah blah blah.” I just did it one day in rehearsal. Nikos fell over with laughter! Kevin was apoplectic. But I felt – it’s not the specific word, that’s true, but this is the spirit of it, this is what’s intended, this is what Chekhov wants the audience to know the woman is doing.

Nikos waited till Kevin had given me my scolding and left the room and then he came over and said, “Keep it in.”

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