Chekhov revisited

Hope Austin

Author, playwright and UMKC alum Catherine Browder discussed her new book, inspired by plays written by famous playwright Anton Chekhov, with Angela Elam of New Letters on the Air. The event, “Chekhov: From Stage to Page,” was held in the White Recital Hall in the Performing Arts Center.
Browder’s book, titled “Now We Can All Go Home: Three Novellas in Homage to Chekhov,” follows the characters of Chekhov’s plays after the curtain closes. She takes characters from three of Chekhov’s plays: “Uncle Vanya,” “Three Sisters” and “The Seagull.” Browder was so taken with Chekhov’s characters that she wanted to know what happened to them after the plays ended, and decided to craft her own take for each character.
“I saw a production in ‘06 by the students here in the Theatre department of ‘Three Sisters.’ And that got the ball rolling,” Browder said. “I kept thinking, ‘Okay, what’s gonna happen to these people?’” Browder said she was so taken with the characters that she “didn’t want to let them go.”
“Three Sisters” was the main inspiration for Browder’s book. The title comes from one of the last lines uttered in the play. Her novella based on “Three Sisters” takes place minutes after Chekhov’s play ends.
As for the novella based on “Uncle Vanya,” Browder was inspired by literary criticism she read that resonated with her, which discussed the character Yelena’s character development.
“The author] mentioned in passing that the character Yelena in the play “Uncle Vanya” deserved a novel of her own,” said Browder.
And from there, Browder wrote her own piece that looks more deeply into Yelena’s character.
“The men keep misunderstanding her. She is one of these beautiful women that turns peoples’ heads, and they never get to see her for what she is,” said Browder.
Elam described Chekhov as a “lifelong love” of Browder’s. Browder described her love of Chekhov as the logical conclusion of being both an author and a playwright.
“Anyone who writes fiction and plays sooner or later finds him,” said Browder. Browder praised Chekhov’s creativity.
“He is such an innovator in both the realm of short fiction and the realm of playwriting,” she said. “People don’t realize what an innovator he was at the turn of the 19th century.” Browder said her main attraction to Chekhov’s work is how his stories are so character-driven.
To clue the audience in on which characters her novellas pay specific attention to, there were three performances of scenes from Chekhov’s plays. Peggy Friesen, Ben Gruber, Linda Sher and Alan Tilson performed in these various scenes.
The event was held in conjunction with UMKC Founders’ Week, and many UMKC alum attended the event.
Browder received her M.A. at UMKC. Ben Gruber, one of the actors, graduated from UMKC and is now part of the graduate program at the Bloch School.
“We’ve done a good thing bringing some people together for Founders’ week,” said Elam.