The Sea Gull
by Anton Chekhov
by Anton Chekhov
"The point is, my friends, there's no use being theatrical. None whatever. The whole thing is very simple. The characters are simple, ordinary people."
On this day in 1896 Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, the first of his masterpieces, premiered in St. Petersburg.
The opening night was such a disaster that by Act Two Chekhov was hiding backstage from the jeering, and by 2 a.m., after hours of walking the streets alone, he was declaring, "Not if I live to be seven hundred will I write another play."
Yesterday I saw a performance of The Seagull at The Goodman Theater directed by Robert Falls. It was a distinctive production with minimal props on a rough hewn diagonal set across the open space of the Goodman's Owen Theater. The cast had several actors whom I had seen in previous performances, two of whom I knew from their work at Timeline Theatre. The not so classic comedy/drama was well-received, as it has been for the century-plus since its opening night flop. The individual characters were well-portrayed and gradually came together to create a microcosm of humanity that was in every sense Chekhovian. It was not hard to see how the first audiences for this play might have been confused by the atomised almost chaotic appearance of the tale of lovers and strangers set in this small Russian summer retreat. The simple ordinary people are not what audiences expected in the last decade of the nineteenth century and even today some of us would prefer stories of superheroes saving the day. The Goodman production sometimes goes over the line and lets bombast interfere with the playwright's goal of a pianissimo production, but this is the exception and the combination of good acting and simple clarity prevailed. The result was an afternoon of gentle comedy and human foibles combined with dramatic resolve on display as imagined by one of the masters of the theater.