Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chekhov's "The Seagull"

What: The Seagull
Playwright: Anton Chekhov
When: December 13
Where: Stephanie P Mclelland Drama Theater)
Performed by the 4th year Juilliard Drama Students

I have read Chekhov’s plays back in high school and found them boring.

Nothing seemed to be happening in them, just ordinary chitchat by sometimes excitable people. There is a lot of fulmination, blood and thunder in Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ibsen but in Chekhov, just plain ordinary conversation. I wasn't too impressed by them.

Yet, Chekhov is considered a great playwright who has greatly influenced the course of modern drama, so obviously I was in the minority in my assessment of Chekhov’s qualities as a dramatist.

Perhaps I would change my mind if I saw an actual production of one of his plays.

My chance came with the Juilliard Drama Department’s production of “The Seagull”, which was the first of four plays that he wrote, plays that are still performed today ( "Uncle Vanya", "The Cherry Orchard"and "The Sisters" were the other three.)

“The Seagull” is basically a play about unhappy people who want what they want but cannot get it (success, love , artistic fulfillment, wealth). It starts with a home production of a play by Konstantin, a budding playwright who wants to change the face of dramatic writing (natch) performed by the girl he has a crush on, Nina, who doesn’t return his affections. Konstantin’s mother is a popular actress-diva, Irina, who tactlessly belittles his son’s play, forcing him to abort the performance and leave in a huff. There are other characters in the play, which I will not recount as anyone can get a copy of “The Seagull”from Gutenberg Project and familiarize himself with them.

All I can say, in regards to the production was, it was an illumination of how turn-of-the-century Russians, especially the artistic types, thought and felt. I had been to St. Petersburg, where the play itself was premiered ( it was a big flop), so I felt a special resonance in the conduct of the play. I especially felt that I was watching real people dealing ( or not dealing) with others in the non-dramatic way that we do in our everyday lives. The action was all in the words and the little, intimate tableaus Chekhov set up that showed how miserable and unfulfilled these people were, like many of us.

The only physical action to be had in the play was in the offstage suicide (or not) of the temperamental Konstantin which was merely announced, not revealed.

I’m grateful to have seen this Juilliard production. All the actors were great and delivered their lines with easy naturalness.

In the end, I was not bored. Nor was I excited either. Watching "The Seagull"pretty much felt like watching grass grow. although you took care to see the veins and interstices of the grass. Had to.

No. I became more thoughtful,. I may read this play again, just to gain more insights into the play because frankly it didn't set my pulse pounding. I am an artist like these characters in this play. I've had feasts and famines and have dealt with them as best I could. I don't believe in trying to kill yourself because of artistic frustrations. Suffering writer's block? Go to Starbucks and have a nice cup of coffee. I know, I can be shallow in this regard.

I do love many of Chekhov’s short stories.

Maybe I’ll stick to them for a while.

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