Four Funny Families is an ambitious and intellectually high-spirited interweaving of four plays by Anton ChekhovThe Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and Cherry Orchardinto a single film. It is also the collaborative creation of the family of Dr. Vera Zubarev Gr94, lecturer in Slavic languages at Penn. Zubarev wrote the script, directed the film, and played several characters, while her husband, Vadim, served as producer, composer, actor, technical adviser, and sound editor. Their son, Michael, handled the cinematography and editing duties, as well as some acting.
The idea was to present all four plays as a cycle in a way that would reveal basic parallels among Chekhovs comic masterpieces, and to do so in a postmodern style that would capture the original spirit of Chekhovs humorwhich, according to Zubarev, was intended to be more farcical than it is usually presented. (Her doctoral dissertation at Penn analyzed Chekhovs vision of the genre of those four plays, and her books include A Systems Approach to Literature: Mythopoetics of Chekhovs Four Major Plays.) The plot revolves around four families living under the same roof in their jointly owned furniture store, which is divided into four sectionsThe Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and Cherry Orchard. When the families throw a party, the fault lines are exposed.
At a screening at Temple University in May, Zubarev said that when she first shared her vision of the film with her family, her husbands response was: Interesting idea, but its difficult enough to understand whats going on in one Chekhov play. It was a valid concern, as the many-layered plot of Four Funny Families sometimes eluded this viewer. Certain cinematographic techniquessuch as the occasional use of a divided screen with four different scenes running simultaneouslyadded to the sense of emotionally detached experimentalism. Depending on your outlook, that postmodern sensibility either undermines or enhances the gentle irony behind the pseudo-philosophy and pretentious utterances of some of Chekhovs characters.
But the film contains many clever, wry, and unique touchesduring one seduction scene, for example, the camera lingers on a gaping hole in the male characters sockand the acting ranged from competent to highly professional. (Some 30 actors from Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Canada, and Ukraine took part.)
Over the summer, Four Funny Families was selected by the Greater Philadelphia Film Offices Fresh Frames program, and was screened at the Prince Music Theater; it was also shown in October at the Wilmington (Del.) Independent Film Festival.
Those interested in learning more about the film can visit (http://www.fourfunnyfamilies.com/).S.H.
2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
THINGS ORNAMENTAL : The Arts