The Chekhov Machine
by Matei Visniec
During playwright Anton Chekhov’s last days, as he is dying of TB, he is haunted by all the characters from his plays. He interacts with them in imaginative scenes that extrapolate the characters moving beyond and outside the plays themselves and takes Chekhov through his own dying – death – dying, into his final state as a figure in a grey and empty Soviet-style wax museum (along with the rest of his characters). The play is a philosophical contemplation (Visniec writes) of writing, death, and certainly other things – a writer who can no longer write, who is trapped and wandering lost within his past & his imagination, with no way to move forward in art or life. In the ultimate scene, Chekhov visits with the character of infant Bobik, now grown into a man guarding the dusty Chekhov Museum – a vision of old culture lost, devalued and replaced by the demoralizing grey world of contemporary Russian/Eastern European life.
Matei Visniec was born in Romania in 1956. From an early age, he discovered literature as a space dedicated to freedom. He draws his strengths from Kafka, Dostoevsky, Poe, Lautréamont. He loves the Surrealists, the Dadaists, absurd and grotesque theatre, surrealist poetry, fantastic literature, magical realism, even the realist Anglo-Saxon theatre. He loves everything except Socialist Realism.
Visniec studied philosophy at Bucharest University and became an active member of the so-called Eighties Generation, who left a clear stamp on the Romanian literature. He believes in cultural resistance, and in literature’s capacity to demolish totalitarianism. Above all, Matéi Visniec believes that theatre and poetry can denounce manipulation through "great ideas", as well as brainwashing through ideology.
Before 1987 Matéi Visniec had made a name for himself in Romania by his clear, lucid, bitter poetry. Starting with 1977, he wrote drama; the plays were much circulated in the literary milieus but were barred from staging. In September 1987, Visniec left Romania for France, where he was granted political asylum. He started writing in French and began working for Radio France Internationale. At the present time, Visniec has had many of his works staged in France, and some fifteen of his plays written in French are published (Actes Sud-Papier, L'Harmattan, Lansman). His plays have been staged in more than 20 countries. In Romania, after the fall of Communism, Matéi Visniec has become one of the most frequently performed authors.
The work of Matéi Visniec has been represented in London by the performance "The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield", staged at the Young Vic Theatre, in November 2000. The play received rave reviews in the British newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian. "The Story of the Panda Bears told by a Saxophonist who has a Girlfriend in Frankfurt" will be performed at the Edinburgh Festival (August 2005). The production is by Rouge28 Theatre, London. In Unites States, the work of Matéi Visniec has been represented in New York, Chicago, New Jersey and Hollywood.