For a play written over 100 years prior, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull has elements that could would of made for a great MTV Reality Show. Complicated love triangles, affluent families, and a setting that could be described as Russia’s version of The Hills, the Seagull is a story decades before its time.
I recently attended a production done by The Arlington Players and I could see those elements come to life on the stage. An ensemble of tortured souls, yearning to satisfied their unrequited love. It’s so emo I expected Death Cab for Cutie to chime in between the many acts. While the Chekhov piece has endured the test of time with a vibrant display of human struggle, there are some aspects of the show I would of been better off without, most notably the four act length of the play. The show lasted well over three hours, something I would have cut down like other modern adaptations of the show. However I do respect to homage to the original work in this case.
Naomi Jacobson and Jerry Whiddon in "The Seagull" at Theater J. Photo: Stan Barouh
Most people don’t associate Chekhov with comedy. We think Russia in all caps, passion with a punch, alcoholics, suicides, depressives. And yes, there’s a lot of that. Except it can all be pretty hysterical stuff, as Theater J’s adaptation of “The Seagull” proves. It’s a thin line between tragedy and comedy, and Chekhov certainly meant us to see the absurdity in our own hyperbolic neuroses. Or put more simply – when a guy presents a dead seagull to his girlfriend, it’s ok to laugh.
Theater J’s mandate is to explore the Jewish cultural heritage and they usually tackle bold new plays. To pull Chekhov into this mandate involved a new translation by Carol Rocamora and an adaptation by Artistic Director Ari Roth that weaves in Jewish cultural references, mostly at the top of the play. If you aren’t familiar with “The Seagull,” these changes will barely register. If you are, they are easily accepted, unless you’re a hardcore Chekhovian scholar. And so we have “The Seagull on 16th Street,” a reference to 16th Street’s Jewish history and a nod to “Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street.”
The core of “The Seagull” is the idea of faith – in oneself, in one’s work and talent – and the terrible capacity to do both good and evil, on a whim. Director John Vreeke delicately pulls this out in a production that makes an excellent introduction to Chekhov. And an ensemble cast of Washingtonian theater regulars is admirably up to the task. Continue reading