The College of Visual and Performing Arts' Department of Drama tackles a seminal work of modern Russian theater as it presents “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov. First performed In St. Petersburg in 1896, “The Seagull” famously flopped on its opening night and nearly drove Chekhov to abandon playwriting. In 1898, the famous director Konstantin Stanislavsky staged the play at The Moscow Art Theatre where it proved a resounding success and helped establish the company’s and the playwright’s reputations.
Translated by Paul Schmidt and directed by Department of Drama faculty member Rob Bundy, “The Seagull” runs Feb. 23 through March 4 in the Arthur Storch Theatre, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse.
“The Seagull” is considered Chekhov's first mature play, the first full-flowering of the talent that would produce “Uncle Vanya,” “The Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard” before his untimely death at 41 from tuberculosis. It is a play about art and artists, about youthful ambition and very much about love. To his friend and publisher Alexei Suvorin, Chekhov once described the play like this: "The comedy has three female roles, six male roles, four acts, a landscape (a view of a lake), much conversation about literature, little action, and five tons of love." He could have added that most of the love is of the unrequited variety.
Chekhov built “The Seagull” on a network of complex relationships with two generations of artists at the core. Konstantin Treplev is the son of a famous actress Irina Arkadina. He is an aspiring writer who wants to revolutionize the theater. He is at once contemptuous of his mother’s work and desperate for her attention. He has felt belittled and neglected by her most of his life. He is also jealous and equally contemptuous of her new boyfriend, a famous and popular writer named Trigorin.
As “The Seagull” opens, Treplev is anxious to show off his latest play for his mother, which he intends to stage on a makeshift platform overlooking a lake on his uncle’s country estate. The play will star Nina Zarechnaya, a young woman with whom Treplev is deeply in love. She, too, has theatrical aspirations. She wants desperately to act, and she is completely star-struck by the famous actress and the famous writer. The evolving interactions of these four characters form the dramatic arc of the play.
There are a handful of other characters in the play, most of whom feel some dissatisfaction, especially where love is concerned. A young schoolteacher named Medvedenko is in love with a woman named Masha. She, however, loves Treplev. Masha’s mother Paulina pines for the aging Dr. Dorn. Whatever their history may have been, he is no longer interested.
For Bundy, all of the characters harbor some hurt that continually gnaws at them. “What’s that grain of agitation that’s in everybody’s innards that colors how they see the world?” he asked. Whatever it may be for each character, it is always at work and it is key to understanding Chekhov’s plays. All the drama of lifetime can be found in every moment of every day.