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4 acts / 4 sets

Why?  Why write another adaptation of THE SEAGULL?

Well there really can only be one good reason: to get it right.

So, here’s the history behind the project:  Running a staged reading series (introducing new/original works every second Sunday of the month and presenting classics every fifth Sunday of the month) we were due for a little Chekhov (overdue in my mind . . . but enough about that–don’t get me started).  So I had scheduled a reading for my personal favorite THE SEAGULL.  I knew that David Mamet had penned adaptations of Chekhov’s greater works so I went in search of his version of THE SEAGULL as I assumed, he being a great playwright himself, his version would probably be the best.  Unfortunately Mr. Mamet had adapted versions of UNCLE VANYA and THE THREE SISTERS but had not done the same with THE SEAGULL.  Oh well.  I reposed myself to use an online version.   I wasn’t happy with it.  It was a translation.  And as translations go there are two trains of thought: literal translations; which tend to translate word for word and theological translations; which attempt to present thought for thought.  While each  style has its pros and cons what tends to be missing is an actual theatrical voice and presentation which breaks down into thoughts and further into beats and those things left unspoken (the basics of which pioneers such as Chekhov and Ibsen were just toying with when THE SEAGULL was first written).  Chekhov’s brilliantly crafted humor was probably the greatest casualty of the translations I had at my disposal. So before we set course on the reading I put out a plea for someone to come forward with a better translation (or adaptation if you will–a description more apt to be used in this case:  as I do not read Russian so I can’t say I’ve translated the play from it’s original state).    Meanwhile I set about to format my own adaptation while waiting on a better version.  Is there one out there?  I can’t say there isn’t but I never received it so we went ahead with my own.  We then went forward and edited out a half an hour of the work in order to bring the playing time into two hours.  We settled on two hours and fifteen minutes (which is still better than almost three–which is where we were at).

In the process  I found there was a lot more humor in the piece than I had originally given Chekhov credit for and I mention this because I don’t think I’m alone in this misperception.  The comedic brilliance is often lost in the misguided casting of TRIGORIN, the writer, often thought of as Chekhov’s own alter ego.

Before I delve further on TRIGORIN let me note that Chekhov, for some unknown reason, did not identify the ages of his characters.  TREPLEV, Arkadina’s son, tells us that he is twenty-five and we have no reason to disbelieve him,  DORN, the retired doctor, admits to fifty-five and SORIN, Arkadina’s brother admits to sixty-five as the play opens.  Arkidana however is quoted (by Treplev) to admitting to being 32 when her son is not around and 43 when he is.  She later guesses Masha’s age as 22 and states that she herself is “almost twice that age” (which would fit with the number 43–if it weren’t for the fact her brother is 27 years older than that.  No, Arkadina is most likely in her mid fifties at least or maybe even closer to her brother, Sorin’s, age).

I bring this matter up because traditionally I often thought of Trigorin as being age appropriate for Arkidina (whatever age that might be)  but NINA asks TREPLEV (in ACT 1) whether Trigorin is young to which TRELEV replies (in a poor translation: “yes”)  “Yes”?  What could this mean?  Well, simply put I think he’s saying: “Yes, too young for my mother!”.  So Trigorin would be YOUNGER than Arkadina but not so young as to not have had lost out on his own youthful days (which he ultimately explores through his relationship with Nina–between the acts).  This was realization number one that profusely changed the dynamics of the play–for the better I might add.  The second (and somewhat smaller point of thought) is what type of writer is Trigorin?  “Clever and witty, clever and witty” is the quote I kept reading in these translations.  In other words:  he writes comedies.  He is a comedian along the likes of a nineteenth century Neil Simon or Woody Allen.  And the mere mention of the name Woody Allen brought about epiphany number three:  What if–(and I think it is the case)–what if: Trigorin is not the suave, debonair ladies man that we often see cast in the role?  What if  he is an awkward, maybe even slightly neurotic character that could actually be brilliantly played by Woody Allen himself (if Mr. Allen was still thirty-five to forty {his Annie Hall years]).  The comedy comes leaping off the page and is richly intensified by this re-envisioning of this key character.  There are of course similar realizations to each character which adds to the rich tapestry of Chekhov’s homage to Hamlet and this comic masterpiece but Trigorin’s casting as a weak man (a term used several times to describe him [even as Trigorin describes himself]) is a key element.

As for the language:  I took it upon myself to add contractions.  Why?  Because they fall less distractingly on our present day ear.  A note regarding contractions: You will find through most of the script that I have replaced proper grammar with its contracted counterpart. Such as it’s for it is and Let’s for let us (unless . My reason for this is scansion. To our modern ear we are thrown by the proper speech of yesteryear when in reality the contracted version was probably closer to the sound of the spoken word as emitted from even the actors at the turn of the previous century when The Seagull was first presented. Also, as actors we tend to emphasize the uncontracted speech in such a way as to impart a special meaning on the otherwise uncontracted words to wit the statement “Let us go to the store” comes out either as “LET us go to the store” or “Let US go to the store”. When all that was meant by the original text is “Let’s go to the store.” So in order to avoid these lofty interpretations I’ve taken away the guess work.

So, this is why.  Enjoy the brilliance of Chekhov’s characters.


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