The Seagull. It’s a classic play by Chekhov. Some people love Chekhov, some people don’t. For me, Chekhov was introduced to me by the head of the acting program at my school almost as a deity.
The top three guys: Shakespeare, Jesus Christ, and Anton Chekhov. And not necessarily in that order.
I don’t bow down to Chekhov, because there are some story-lines of his that I find tedious. But those are always overshadowed by the brilliant complexities in his writing. More on that in a moment though.
Last night in Minneapolis a group of actors got together to do a reading of Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. It was a big cast, full of very talented people, and there were going to be many friends who might want to sit and listen. So, instead of someone’s living room, they used the Jungle Theater stage, and emailed out invites and created a Facebook event and called it The Seagull Project. Some online article or blog referenced it as a bunch of theater nerds getting together. So true. Someone provided wine and beverages and snacks. Suddenly it’s a cocktail party.
Because I hate to miss a party (and always need to hone my schmoozing skills), and because, frankly, this was an amazing group of actors to get together, I was excited to attend. The turn out was fair, maybe 50 or 60 people. There were a number of faces I knew, others I recognized, and some were strangers. The whole thing was very casual. So casual, in fact, that the door was locked and people had to take turns noticing and letting folks in. Drinks were set out and you simply grabbed a glass and poured yourself some wine! People chit-chatted around the lobby, keeping an eye out for who was there, who had just arrived, who to talk to. (“Oh, please, let me be able to talk to someone I know – Oh! Look! Someone I like!”)
I make it sound taut or something. It wasn’t. It was friendly and exciting. After all, it’s not the typical thing. It was just like some theatre folk have done with friends at home on a weekend, getting together to read a script out loud, but larger. More public.
Per typical cocktail party climate the reading inevitably started late. No one really cared, though, as we were all having a lovely time. “So, what are you working on?”
But then came the reading. This Tom Stoppard fella, he seems to know a thing or two about stringing together some dialogue. It’s probably some of the smoothest Chekhov lines I’ve heard or read. No awkward or overly written phrasing, and yet wonderful turns of phrase.
And the actors – well, please. They were as good as we all expected! First off, the fact that it was essentially a cold-read, at least in terms of scene partners, it went really, really well. There had been no rehearsal or chance to read things through once or twice to get the rhythms or play off each other, yet the whole thing bounced along superbly. Secondly, as some people know and others are always surprised to learn, Chekhov wrote comedies. And this was funny as hell!
And perhaps more than anything it reminded me again of why I love Chekhov. These deeply stubborn, passionate characters, often with odd histories or quirks. I mean, how can a man like Constantine not break your heart – to hear the things he has to hear from others, to be so denied the love he willingly offers, to be treated as he is by his own mother and the woman he loves? It’s a character that could easily be bratty or pompous even, but when read with truth, he’s tragic. Somehow, with out really staging it, and without any direction or rehearsal, but with smart actors and a very well written script, the whole storyline of Medvenko loves Masha who loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who loves…well, too many — was all made perfectly clear, and even more importantly, perfectly accessible and moving to an audience.
This kind of organic, get-together is just the thing our theatre community needs more of. As long as it remains organic and doesn’t become organized and structured, it can be like the lives in the Seagull and like the lives of seagulls, taking us places we didn’t know we would end up.