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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 437-438

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Book Review

Stanislavsky in Focus

Stanislavsky in Focus. By Sharon Marie Carnicke. Russian Theatre Archive, Volume 17. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998; pp. xii + 235, 12 illus. $23.00.

In Stanislavsky in Focus Sharon Marie Carnicke wants to take readers beyond "common knowledge" of Konstantin Stanislavsky to consider what he actually professed (6). Her work as a translator of his original manuscripts and her readings of the proofs from which American translator Elizabeth Hapgood worked give Carnicke the necessary purview to propose that Stanislavsky has yet to be understood. Her "revitalized readings" of his work make Stanislavsky in Focus a welcome contribution (6).

Since 1954, when University of California, Los Angeles professor Henry Schnitzler announced the discrepancies between the English and Russian editions of An Actor Prepares and Building a Character, Stanislavsky scholarship by those who have read the Russian texts has become increasingly desirable. Scholars tend to suggest that those who do not read Russian should patiently await anticipated new translations, purportedly ready for publication by Routledge at any moment. The sad fact, however, is that these new translations may never be published.

Routledge's original plan was that Carnicke would be joined by other scholar-translators. Though the new translation is still listed as in-progress, Routledge has not moved forward. Therefore, responsible Stanislavsky research by those who do not read Russian is best conducted through the scholarship of translators who have read the manuscripts. Since Carnicke uses her own translation in citations, the book functions as a snapshot of what a new translation might yield.

The book consists of three parts. Part one, "Transmission," has two chapters, "From Moscow to New York" and "New York Adopts Stanislavsky." Chapter one focuses on what Carnicke calls "The Ironies of the Tours" (21). Chief among those ironies was that the New York tours included plays from Moscow Art Theatre's 1898-1904 seasons that would have been deemed decadent in Stalin's Soviet Union. In chapter two she demonstrates that "[a]ctors worldwide learned about Stanislavsky from Americans" (6). Her explanation of how Richard Boleslavski, Maria Ouspenskaya, Stella Adler, and Lee Strasberg all contributed to the Americanization of Stanislavsky's system clarifies the acting methodology emanating from the United States.

The second part, "Translation," contains chapters four, "The Classroom Circuit," and five, "The Publication Maze." Chapter four explores the ways in which Stanislavsky's ideas became more sophisticated, more complex as he matured. Carnicke posits that at each stage of his career, Stanislavsky's students taught the System, both in the United States and Russia, as it was understood at that particular historical moment. Rather than engage in pointless polemics over who understood Stanislavsky correctly, Carnicke argues that each person's pedagogy results from not only how he or she understood Stanislavsky but when.

In chapter five Carnicke endeavors to clarify the sources of many misconceptions about Stanislavsky's work. Their roots, she claims, do not reside merely in the Hapgood translation. The convoluted publication arrangements Hapgood made with Theatre Arts Books and the mess Stanislavsky himself made while readying manuscripts for both American and Russian publishers are major factors. The concessions he made to Soviet censors' demands are especially interesting. Between censors and Moscow Art Theatre dramaturgs, what Stanislavsky actually taught in the [End Page 437] studios of the Moscow Art Theatre was not what he published. A politically correct version was designed to get past Soviet censors. Carnicke demonstrates that Stanislavsky virtually smuggled the System out of Russia by adjusting his language to fit Soviet ideology. It is here that Carnicke's reading of the manuscripts is crucial. Carnicke demonstrates how Stanislavsky's poetics were mangled in both the American and official Russian versions, Rabota aktera nad soboi, Chast I (1938) and Sobranie sochinenii (1954-1961), and reconstructs what she believes to be his actual message. She demonstrates that the System was more spiritualistic than the Soviets could accommodate and more imbued with behavioral psychology than the Americans could comprehend.

Part Three, "Transformation," includes the chapters "The Lost Term," "Emotion and the Human Spirit of the Role...


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