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Cherry Orchard Blossoms in a New Translation

Associate Artistic Director Curt Columbus is a familiar voice in the pages of Steppenwolf's Backstage — but usually he's doing the interview, not being interviewed. Director of New Play Development Ed Sobel turned the tables on Curt, getting him to talk about the upcoming production of Cherry Orchard this season, and asking him to talk about the translation and the art of Anton Chekhov. Ed Sobel: First, let's talk about the title. It's not A Cherry Orchard, it's not The Cherry Orchard. Why is that? Curt Columbus: I know this seems like one of those small language-nerd points, but there are no articles in Russian. Either definite or indefinite articles, "a," "an," or "the," they just don't exist. When I went back to translate the plays, I thought, why would it be The Cherry Orchard? It seems to limit the poetry of the title to imply that it's a specific Cherry Orchard, as if the specifics of place are what the play is about. This Cherry Orchard is a metaphor for all kinds of things. I hope the less-specific title releases our reading of the play into more of a metaphorical space, that it will focus attention on Chekhov as a non- naturalistic writer, not as someone who's a documentarian. ES: What are some of the themes you see in this more poetic rendering? CC: The character of Charlotta is one of my favorites in Cherry Orchard because she has a wonderful speech at the top of the second act about "I don't know who I am or where I'm from." Ultimately, the play is about how we define ourselves in the face of change. The world is changing so rapidly and so catastrophically for these people, and they're struggling to hold on to who they used to be. ES: That sounds vaguely familiar... CC: Doesn't it? It's really a play about a time like our time, where the people don't want to acknowledge the changes that are coming and are inevitable. They stand there, wringing their hands, watching things slip away, and saying, "But if we just keep holding on, things will all stay the same!" Which goes back to the drive of this play; it's not about stasis, it's about struggle! In the face of changing times, they struggle and fight and claw to hold on to their old version of their selves, and that's what ultimately brings them down. I was talking to Amy Morton about Lovey and who she is, and I said, "Think about what would happen to somebody like Paris Hilton, who is just so insanely unaware of the fact that they are blessed with a certain kind of wealth. Now imagine if that privilege were taken away from them suddenly — what would they be like? How rabidly and animalistically would they cling to who they used to be? Like a little weasel or ferret trying to hang on to the idea 'But I was this person!'" That's what Cherry Orchard is all about.