"I have rarely seen a great production of any Chekhov play in Japan. Sometimes, I've even wanted to ask how they managed to make them so tedious."

Mansai Nomura, one of the country's leading kyōgen (traditional comedy) actors, may say this with a wry laugh, but the 47-year-old who plays an arty celebrity (Trigorin) in the upcoming Tokyo staging of "The Seagull" by Russian master Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904) was serious as he explained how most productions fail because they take a "psychoanalytic approach." As a result, he says, many end up being far too heavy to be enjoyable because directors have taken it all too seriously by fashioning "useless psychodrama" instead of letting the characters "speak freely as the author intended."

Stressing how Chekhov demands an entirely different approach from the works of William Shakespeare, Nomura — who is also the artistic director of Setagaya Public Theater in Tokyo — goes on to echo, in conversation with this writer, the widely held view that the Russian is one of the key creators of contemporary theater as it exists around the world.