Chekov On the Prairie
When I was a stage management intern at Juilliard, I worked on production of a Chekov play. The rehearsal process was amazing – we dug deep into that play, excavating profound character dimension from every nuance, boldly chasing rabbit trails of relationships far deeper than even Anton dared to go.
Every rehearsal concluded in exhaustion – but a joyful one. Finding the shadings of such a classic was its own reward.
Which was reinforced when we performed the play: the audience was mostly indifferent to it. We had dug so far away from the surface, only one who sat through rehearsals with us had any idea where we were.
We ended up with a performance for us; not for the audience.
I felt the same thing watching the movie PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. I am a huge fan of the radio show, and love the easy-going energy that accompanies Garrison Keillor’s spinning of that magical world of a lake lost in the staples in the Minnesota map.
Robert Altman, in putting together the movie, mistook easy-going for “going nowhere.” The film is a lackluster collection of performances that border on interesting, but never have a chance to settle.
The viewing experience was disappointing because I am such a fan of the radio show – and mostly because the radio writing is so tight. There is little waste in the weekly show, and all things –no matter how bizarre – connect to build a unified whole.
In the radio version, the affinity connecting the characters and actors is so palpable, one feels like a part of a community. In the film, the poor actors strain to try and force connections where the script forgets to give them one.
With lesser actors, this would have simply been a badly written show, but with the likes of Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline – actors that connect even without a script – this movie becomes a snub. The performances are so far removed from the audience, we are pointedly left out of community.
When I first heard the critic’s trash the movie, I ignored them. I thought that they just didn’t get the radio show, and maybe this was a movie for the fans. Alas, fans of the radio show should stick to the radio; this flick is only for those that worked on it.
Just my thoughts,