I don’t know why I came to Chekhov. I suppose it’s because he’s called a genius, and his works are considered among THE classics of The Western Canon. I wanted to stress-test that idea. See it for myself... instead of being told.
Right from the start I was /am convinced that you can’t adapt Chekhov without being able to read Russian. You just can’t get the “music” of the language, its essence. For that reason alone “The Hotel Cerise” is not / cannot be an adaptation in the strict sense.
But I had to read the play.
I found a 100 year old out-of-copyright script and from it I saw the playwright’s “lightness of being”.
This “lightness of being” is about the irony of life: all of our running around; our striving; our politics; being good; the hatreds and the falling in love...it all eventually comes to an end accompanied by that old Chicago blues song: “There’s a train comin’...and we’re all gonna catch it.”
That train is Death.
For me, Chekhov faces this ultimate reality best: with humour; and delicacy; a bit of absurdity, and wonder, too. Chekhov ‘s template; its shape and his territory, also gave me the opportunity to do what I’ve dedicated the rest of my life in the theatre to doing: placing women ; people of colour and other minorities inside of classic works, to stretch; to push; and interrogate them.
So therefore –for me-there is no “Black Version” of anything in reality. “The Hotel Cerise” is no “Black Version.” There is only the Next Step in the discovery of what makes a Great Work of the theatre. I wanted to explore a class that I don’t know much about and which isn’t written enough about: the upper class; the Black Elite. What working class folks like me call: The NAACP –“National Association Of Certain People “. These people are not victims of racism in the classic sense-they’ve insulated themselves from it through money and privilege. The drama of being Black in America is so acute, so intense, that this class is often overlooked.
So “The Cherry Orchard” gave its name to the hotel in my play- “The Hotel Cerise”: (“cerise”, is cherry in French.)- a summer resort created exclusively for affluent African Americans in the 1920’s. Some of these places still exist. For “The Hotel Cerise” I invented the Mountjoys, a family whose white ancestor had left them a great deal of money; a family who now suddenly face the loss of their beloved orchard.
And the centre an ageing brother and sister battling against loss.
This play is about loss. ..but not a Protestant a Russian one of the Old School: amused melancholy, and elegance and acceptance, because ....in the end...everything passes.
Even a beautiful cherry orchard can go.
And on the the existential level this family are facing the reality of being relegated in the American Hierarchy Of People Of Colour by the Incomers: Africans ; Caribbean people; Asians; Mexicans; Muslims; Europeans of African descent: brown and black people taking the African American “place”.
“The Hotel Cerise” exists now-within the world of “Black Lives Matter”; “Black Girls Rock”, globalisation.... and the final months of the Presidency of Barack Obama.... and what lies ahead.
The play is about love and family too....
You may leave the theatre, sad, tearful...but I hope grateful, too, to be alive.
And full of hope.