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March 24, 2014

"The Seagull" - A play about unrequited love and new forms

Written by  Esther J. Lee
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Full cast of "The Seagull" at Glenn Wallichs Theater Full cast of "The Seagull" at Glenn Wallichs Theater Photo by Terry Long

“The Seagull” was directed by Tom Provenzano at the Glenn Wallichs Theater from March 20-23, 2014. The play was written by Anton Chekhov in 1895 and is considered the first of his four major plays. Provenzano had first seen the play when he was just 7 years old and for some time had wanted to direct it. When asked about the play’s historical significance, Provenzano states, “Within its period it was a big change in theater because it was just about how people lived. It was a revolution and really moved us towards modern and contemporary theater.” In relationship to Chekhovian theater he says, “They say they’re comedies, but they’re really dramas about this particular period coming to the close of Czarist Russia.”

In “The Seagull” Chekhov was interested in character development and psychological drama rather than on plot. While navigating turbulent relationships with one another, the characters in the play struggle to find happiness in love and careers. In a play that relies heavily on individuals to drive the story, the cast of this production gave strong performances. In order to achieve believable drama, the range of personalities were well coaxed.

The main personalities at odds with one another are those of the four main characters which can be simplified to: moody and purist, naive and soft, dull but earnest, domineering and self centered. Playwright Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov (Kurt Wendler) and aspiring actress Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya (Katy Duncan) are young hopefuls with much to learn about the realities of life. Over the course of the play they appear increasingly crestfallen and disappointed by perceived obstacles in their attainment of love and success. Konstantin’s mother and established actress, Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina (Alyssa Good) and her lover, celebrity writer Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin (Thomas Roberts), are the older and more static characters whose struggles and self development is less urgent or pronounced.

Konstantin is the maverick protagonist, an opinionated playwright who believes the others are following mediocre conventional art forms. His character expresses the same criticisms that Chekhov had with traditional Russian theatre during his time, and it is interesting that within the play Chekhov chose to explicitly discuss the subject which he was already tackling in form.

Konstantin tries to win the approval and affection of his mother, Irina, and his love, Nina, both of whom are instead fixated on Trigorin. The production of Konstantin’s play in Act One is ridiculed by Irina who calls it a “decadent and gibberish play.” Thus ensues the tension and struggle between the different characters’ personalities.

Following his failed play, Konstantin shoots a seagull and presents it to Nina, saying, “women can forgive everything but failure.” Alarmed by this gesture, Nina distances herself from Konstantin. In the Third Act Nina discusses her work as a second rate actress, proclaiming herself to be the seagull Konstantin shot. “I’m the Seagull,” she says between hysterical and amnesiac mumblings, “I’m the Seagull,” she mutters a second time. A common bird that can be seen hopping along harbor piers or gliding above bodies of water in rogue independence, the now dead seagull becomes symbolic to Nina’s failed attainment of happiness and success.

As a foil for Konstantin, Trigorin may represent the traditional forms Chekhov was critical of during his time, but as a character- dull and earnest- he is somewhat likeable. This humanization is interesting; the writer possesses charm and self awareness, particularly towards his own fame which he believes is a construct of people who are “humoring him like an invalid.”

Irina is the domineering and self-centered force of the play who lacks compassion for her son. Her brother, Sorin (Tucker Ellsworth), is a kind and good humored man who provides comic relief, while Masha (Sydney Roberts), a grounded and practical woman, brings some much needed rationality to the play. Opting to marry the teacher despite her love for Konstantin, she is resigned to her situation, stating, “better marry and forget about love.” All the while Konstantin is a bit in his own world, suffering from unrequited love and immersed in his work for new forms. He is a hopeless romantic who in the end meets the ill fate of one.

Fortunately for Chekhov his vision for new form and new theatre, as embodied in “The Seagull,” did not meet the same fate as Konstantin’s own. The play has gone on to be considered a canon in modern theater. When asked what modern audiences would take away from “The Seagull,” Provenzano adds, “Hopefully they feel the frustration of all these people- everyone experiences unrequited love. (In the play) everyone loves someone else, and no one ends up with who they want to be with. It’s heartbreaking.”

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