By Chekhov, Anton
1999., Toronto Soulpepper
- CHEKHOV’S PLATONOV
„Working with Marton, who has a 14-year history with the prestigious theatre Louisville, is undeniably a coup for Soulpepper. Inevitably, being linked with such high-calibre directors as Marton and Phillips leads to comparisons with the mother of classical theatre up the road.”
National Post, September, 1999, Mira Friedlander
„A great modern play, brilliantly done. In and around Torontothis has been a glorious theatrical summer. (…) Soulpepper has had the stunning simple idea of putting good actors in good plays and placing both in the hands of good directors. It’s that last component that separates it from some well-intentioned actor’s collectives; and its association this year with Hungarian director Laszlo Marton has proved inspirational. His production of ”The Play’s the Thing”was a beautifully sustained exercise in high comedy; his version of Chekhov’s Platonov is that and much more.(…) I confess that up to a couple of years agoI would not have thought theatre of this quality existed in Canada. This is a show that can face the world.”
National Post, 9 September, 1999, Robert Cushman
„It helps, of course, to be working with a director like Laszlo Marton. (…) The experience has been totally dreamy. Everybody is swooning over Laszlo. He’s like Chekhov’s best friend, he knows he knows him so well.”(Actress Liisa Repo-Martell about Laszlo Marton)
The Sunday Sun,
22 August, 1999, John Coulbourn
„Marton is a cultural icon in Hungary…His productions are famous. They are cultural touch-stones in the way we hang on to the Canada-Russia hockey series or the Terry Fox run. (Albert Schultz, Soulpepper’s artistic director about Laszlo Marton)
The Toronto Star,
28 August, 1999. Robert Crew
„It’s like he’s carved this play out of the original…He’s like a jeweller who ‘s cut the right spots and angles, revealing this beauitiful gem.” (Actress Susan Coyne about Laszlo Marton)
2 September, 1999. Glenn Sumi
A great modern play, brilliantly done. In and around Torontothis has been a glorious theatrical summer. […] Soulpepper has had the stunning simple idea of putting good actors in good plays and placing both in the hands of good directors. It’s that last component that separates it from some well-intentioned actor’s collectives; and its association this year with Hungarian director László Marton has proved inspirational. His production of The Play’s the Thing was a beautifully sustained exercise in high comedy; his version of Chekhov’s Platonov is that and much more. […] I confess that up to a couple of years ago I would not have thought theatre of this quality existed in Canada. This is a show that can face the world.
9 September, 1999
Soulpepper: a company that’s worth its salt. […] Working with Marton, who has a 14-year history with the prestigious Theatre Louisville, is undeniably a coup for Soulpepper. Inevitably, being linked with such a high-calibre directors as Marton and Phillips leads to comparisons with the mother of classical theatre up the road.
It helps, of course, to be working with a director like László Marton. […] The experience has been totally dreamy. Everybody is swooning over László. He’s like Chekhov’s best friend, he knows him so well.(Actress Liisa Repo-Martell about László Marton)
The Sunday Sun
22 August, 1999
Marton is a cultural icon in Hungary […] His productions are famous. They are cultural touch-stones in the way we hang on to the Canada-Russia hockey series or the Terry Fox run. (Albert Schultz, Soulpepper’s artistic director about László Marton)
The Toronto Star
28 August, 1999
It’s like he’s carved this play out of the original […] He’s like a jeweller who‘s cut the right spots and angles, revealing this beauitiful gem. (Actress Susan Coyne about László Marton)
2 September, 1999
In effect, this is a new Chekhov drama, carved out of a larger whole and deftly trimmed into a new, intriguing shape by Marton and Soulpepper. It is still something of an unwieldy play in its extended melodramatics, but it is also fascinating as a harbinger of things to come, a template for the masterworks ahead.
17 September, 1999
Euro smash. July 1999. The fledgling Soulpepper Theatre company has started rehersals for Checkhov’s Platonov.
But Marton, who made the extended seven weeks of reharsals – almost twice the standard length – a condition of his coming to Toronto, imposes no single interpretation of the play. A typical directing note will be “I think what we want here is very, very good acting.” The director and the actors will discover the play together. As they find its physical spaces, they will design a set to hold them. (Michael Levine’s final sets, made of brown paper, were a masterpiece of eloquent understatement.) As they come to know their characters, they will outfit them, for the most part, in contemporary clothes, their own or borrowed.
Though described as a workshop production, Marton’s Platonov was in fact a fully examined, emotionally complex and sensual work, the actors reavealing a deep psychological intimacy with their characters. Not that the effect was cerebral or rarefied. Indeed, the production was almost violently physical: the audience could feel what it was like to have a pail of water hurled into in their faces. Above all, Checkov’s rarely seen early play revealed itself as a tragicomic vision, wrenchingly contemporary, of lost illusions. A year later, László Marton, a European outsider to the Toronto theatre community, was presented with the Dora Award for best director. […] There have been important European influences on our theatre before this; the late director John Hirsch, who was born in Hungary, is the prime example. But this man is different. He doesn’t live here. He’s parachuted in at regular intervals to serve the challenging, catalytic function of “the outsider”, pushing actors and audiences to look at the masterworks through a new lens. […]
Susan Coyne, who not only acted in Platonov but worked with Marton on its English translation, says, “László brings a European familiarity; he’s part of a conversation over there. He’s seen so much and directed so much that there’s that confidence, that breadth of experience.” When Marton started rehersals with Coyne for a Masterclass production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters in 1991, he acknowledged that though he had never directed the play, he had seen more than 30 productions of it, and even acted in a couple. […] Such rich familiarity with the classical repertoire has not usually been available to directors in this country, whrere even the most gifted have built their reputations tackling new plays. […]
Marton’s Eastren European cultural tradition included the understanding that the theatre was an important part of political change. Censorship, ironically, had had a positive effect upon the work, as artists under a watchdog’s eye were forced to be more inventive, indirect and subversive to communicate their arguments. As a result, the metataphor within a staging became critical. Soulpepper’s production of Molière’s The School for Wives last summer is an example. A brutal examination of an aging man’s subjugation of a young woman, it was literally set within a cage.
For Marton, the meaning of a play is discovered in collaboration, not imposed from a unilateral intellect. Even though he had been studying Platonov and teaching it to his Hungarian acting students for almost 15 years, he waited to see what his Canadian actors would discover. It had to be theirs. “László knows actors can’t come to a classic without living and breathing the people for a long time”, says Nancy Palk, who played Anna Petrovna in the Soulpepper production. “Things need time to gestate.”
“My decision to work with Soulpepper was a very emozional, subjective choice,” says Marton. “I always have a fear before I begin such a great play. You always fear that your talent isn’t enough – and most of the time, sadly, that turns out to be the truth.” He discovered that there was a profound energy around the Toronto staging of Platonov, that it used the very best part of the actor, and pushed him into a deeper understanding of the life, the intentions and the background of the characters. “We were all responsible for the creative process,” he says. “I am not a large person, and if there is tension in the room or in the theatre, I am not able to work. I need a receptive, warm atmosphere to make me feel free. This I found here.”
We went to watch László’s students at the Hungarian Academy of Dramatic Art present scenes from his adaptation of Platonov. What I saw was a revelation. […]The students literally threw themselves into this world with a physical daring, passion and commitment that was almost shocking. Although I speak no Hungarian, it was abundantly clear what was happening at every moment. Chekhov’s characters had never seemed more vividly alive. I remeber László saying one day, “We must be very brave when we act in these plays. We must be able to confess when we are losing.” This is what makes us laugh and cry when we watch Chekhov’s plays, and why they are so astonishing. No one has captured our frailty and our endless capacity for self-delusion in quite this way. So remorselessly. And so tenderly.
Susan Coyne in the Foreword of her adaptation of Platonov
It was 11 years ago that Marton first visited Canada to conduct a workshop of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Several of the eager young actors in that production are now the members of the Soulpepper trouple who have invited him back to direct them and teach the next generation, as the learning curve comes full circle.
The Globe and Mail
15 August, 2002
Chekhov times five at master class Soulpepper. László Marton, the Hungarian director who has become the Soulpepper Theatre Company’s annual visiting guru, is teaching a master class on Platonov. This is the massive apprentice Chekhov play he directed in Soulpepper’s second and third seasons and that in some ways has been its defining success.
The students are mainly young actors, recent graduates of George Brown College and the University of Toronto. They spent three weeks studying the play and preparing scenes from it, guided and goaded by Marton, culminating in an informal presentation earlier this month. “It’s wonderful” said Marton at the start of the presentation “to have such an old broken-down building. It has a life, it has a heart.” He also quoted the great Italian director, Giorgio Strehler: “our work is about the memories of our desires, disappointments and defeats.” The student actors also had to draw on their experiences and bring those memories into the characters. This is standard acting theory as expounded by Stanislavsky and adopted (and adapted) by the New York Actors’ Studio, but Marton brings to it his own warmth, his own charm and his own passion for physical detail.
There’s a party scene in Platonov and two of the groups elected to present it. (An actress in one of them surprised everybody by making her first entrance from a fridge.) “Acting this scene,” said Marton, “is not about being old and Russian; it’s about how you are at a party. You could be as knowledgeable about Russian literature as the British Museum itself; it still wouldn’t help. Your body rhythm is very different, depending on what time of day it is, how long you’re going to stay there, how many drinks you’ve had. It’s difficult to have a conversation about your life at 8 or 9 in the evening; you need the magic of the night. A 1 a.m. line is not the same as an 8 o’clock line.” This sodden late-night feeling has come brilliantly to life in Marton’s Chekhov productions for Soulpepper. Everybody who has seen Diego Matamoros in the current Uncle Vanya virtually make love to a chair while lamenting the life he never lived and the woman he never had must have wondered where the idea came from. Matamoros says it originated with him (“I thought I need to hold something”) and was edited and encouraged by Marton, but it must have needed the climate of the production, and of a whole way of working, to bring it about.
He’d already worked with many of the Soulpepper actors on a famous production of Three Sisters – for a group called Masterclass Theatre – seen at Banff and in Toronto in 1991. So when those actors reunited, “I felt responsible for them.” And what they’ve forged together – Canadian Chekhov, paprika-flavoured – is unique. And, it seems, teachable.
24 August, 2002