Last week we were down in New York City and, among other activities, we took in a performance of Chekhov's Three Sisters at the Classic Stage Company. It was a marvelous night. Our friend, Jessica Hecht, was riveting as Olga, as were Maggie Gyllenhaal (Masha) and Juliet Rylance (Irina). The ensemble work of the entire cast was captivating. An excellent show.
We had seen Jessica in the role of Olga three years ago at the Williamstown Theater Festival. And I blogged about that production, noting how the central theme of longing for something better out of life - the yearning to return to Moscow and the unrequited love - contrasts sharply with the Daoist sensibility of simply accepting what is before us. In that post I noted that the only character to exhibit a bit of Daoist insight was the servant woman, who, from her lowly station, declares herself the happiest person in the world.
But this time around I noticed something new, a few lines from the character Tuzenbakh, that struck a Daoist chord:
Not only in two or three hundred years but in a million years life will be just the same; it doesn't change, it remains stationary, following its own laws which we have nothing to do with or which, anyway, we'll never find out. Migratory birds, cranes for instance, fly backwards and forwards, and whatever ideas, great or small, stray through their minds, they'll still go on flying just the same without knowing where or why. They fly and will continue to fly, however philosophic they may become; and it doesn't matter how philosophical they are so long as they go on flying. . . .
The notion that philosophy doesn't matter - because ultimately it cannot change the course of Way - is, of course, central to Daoist philosophy.
Too bad Tuzenbakh doesn't listen to his own words. He cannot accept that Irina doesn't really love him, and he allows himself to be drawn into a duel, where he meets his end. And maybe that is the point: there is a certain futility in holding on too tightly to desires that can never be fulfilled. We just have to let go, and follow along wherever Way takes us, just go on flying like those cranes....