Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, written in Russian in 1895, directed by Cody Estle,
runs at the Artistic Home this month. The production lays out the first of Chekhov’s four major plays faithfully as it tells the story of a young wanna-be writer trying to escape the eclipsing ego of his famous mother.
The story: Nervous, idealistic Treplev (Julian Hester), son of aging actress Arkadina (played lustily by Kathy Scambiatterra), expresses the hot desire of youth to be a writer, and not only that, but to express “new forms!” is threatened by his mother and her lover Trigorin (Scot West), a well-known writer and member of the Russian intelligentsia.
He presents an avant-garde play to his family and local friends. The play, featuring Treplev’s muse, Nina (Brookelyn Hebert), is pretentious but still kind of likable. It’s also doomed, though. Treplev stops the play abruptly to protest the audience’s (his mother’s) cynical reactions and laughter. As soon as overweening mummy arrives, as Treplev predicts, she sucks all the attention in the room, but he also can’t help giving it to her.
With Chekhov nothing said seems very harmful, and the conflicts are sort of childish, the misunderstandings accentuated by an almost willful miscommunication. The sometimes empty speechifying of the characters acts as a counterpart to their actions.
These, under a guise of art or love, display more basic, selfish operations. We glean that for all her words, Arkadina has trouble actually supporting her son. She’s selfish, but we also understand as he’s a bit of a weenie and has no sense of irony. Trigorin, a realist and co-user of Arkadina, reveals himself to Nina, whose purity and guilelessness about the creative life causes a crack in his façade. Even he seems confused by his forthcoming honesty as he describes an unbearable sense of his own mediocrity, and obsessiveness. All the while he’s taking notes for his writing habit. Somewhere in the course of the speech he turns from utterly convincing to opportunistic (kudos to West) as he seduces (now rather navie than pure) Nina.
With her on the hook, says, “Idea for a short story. The shore of a lake, and a young girl who’s spent her whole life beside it… she’s happy and free as a seagull. Then a man comes along, sees her, and ruins her life because he has nothing better to do.” (Chekhov 2.117)
He can’t resist, he is quickly locked back into his typical role and we get a glimpse into a rapacious artist’s process. There is nothing to love but to conquer and use (for material). The longing of the “artists” who sacrifice themselves and others on some symbolic altar, is thick, and intertwines with the personal illusions (narratives) that they have about themselves and each other. Their miscommunication is not willful, it’s tragic.
The only respite from these sad delusional creatures comes from the young Masha (a funny, deadpan Laura Lapidus), who pines in love after Treplev but settles down with another. She is the only person in the play who seems to know that her desires are arbitrary and doesn’t expect them to come true. She is also a poorer character, so this may also be owing to this point—that the rich can more easily live in worlds of their own devising. Masha is no happier than the others, though. Her cynicism does not protect her from the pains of life.
“The Seagull” is a tricky play for pacing, as much of the “action” happens off-stage.
Clocking in at over two-and-a-half hours, this production began to lose momentum towards the climax, eventually sitting down at its finish. This was not only because of the quietness of the action, but also the making up for it with pathos and long-held, brooding looks on the part of the desperate Treplev and other actors. Too, the play seems to lack heart for its honest but bleak finish, as if the writer himself wished it was not so.
“The Seagull” runs May 22 through July 3, 2016 at
The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60642, with performances as follows:
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays beginning May 29 at 3:00 pm
Thursday, Sunday: $28 suggested donation; Friday, Saturday: $32 suggested donation
Thursday and Sunday: Senior/Student seats are offered for a suggested donation of $20
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.theartistichome.org
Public Transportation: Accessible via the CTA #65 Grand bus and the Blue Line (Chicago stop).
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Seagull”