Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” will be opening March 14, 2019, and playing weekends until March 30, 2019, at The Wheel Theatre Company performing at the DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St., NW, Washington DC 20009.
Tickets are available online.
Jack Read is the Artistic Director & Co-Founder of The Wheel Theatre Company. He directed The Wheel’s inaugural production of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s At Sea, Staring Up (North American Premiere), Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blind for Capital Fringe, and Matt Minnicino’s Some Pictures of the Floating World and Matthew Capodicasa’s The City in the City in the City for Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival. He’s developed children’s plays, curated one-act festivals, and has worked as a stage manager and sound designer. He is working on a new play about some guys and a horse.
Jack Read adapted this classic and is the Director of the production. I had a chance to ask Jack some questions about this new look at one of the great playwrights.
Why did you decide to add a prologue and epilogue? How did you create the text?
I knew our production was going to pretty carefully follow the structure of the play as audiences know it (with flourishes – some big, some small). As I worked on the adaptation and started to know the characters better, I became invested in the central idea of how the old wrestles with the new, and vice versa. Our prologue, delivered by Trigorin, is freely assembled from letters written by Chekhov – something old. And our epilogue more deeply explores the ethereal qualities of Konstantin and Nina’s strong belief in a new form of theatre that shows life “not as it is, but as we dream it to be.” As an ensemble, we are devising a piece of text and movement that takes elements from the show to create something new.
Chekhov always said his plays were comedies. Although, most of them have tragic endings. Do you view The Seagull as a comedy or a tragedy?
The cast and I very specifically view The Seagull as a comedy; Chekhov did. In fact, in his personal letters, he admits he’s realized he’s writing “not a drama, but a comedy.” Yes, these characters suffer – a lot – but nearly all of them find ways to endure. It’s in that strength, and their attempts to live with sadness and pain, that creates a hilarious friction. There is a flippancy towards the futility of life that we think audiences will recognize and feel comforted by. To paraphrase Don Hertzfeldt, these characters are proud of their sadness because it makes them feel more alive
Chekhov was the main playwright of Stanislavski’s acting school and the jumping board for his method of realism in acting. Did you employ any special exercises to keep you actors “real”?
Not any acting exercises, but we did have fairly regular conversations that I think helped us get a bit closer to the play and its themes of regret and failure. We talked about our “ships at sea” – dreams we once had that had since moved on from us. We also went in the opposite direction – dreams that, despite all notions of reason telling us to give up, we believe we’ll hold onto, no matter how painful it is to do so. The discussions we had were thoughtful, enlightening and strengthened our bonds with the material and with each other.
Sometimes translations seem ponderous. This can be due to the translator’s ability in capturing not only the meaning but the culture in the translation. What translation did you use and did you have to make any changes?
This is a new adaptation of “The Seagull” – I am careful to refer to it as an adaptation and not a translation, as I don’t speak a lick of Russian. While there are many wonderful English translations to be licensed, I chose to adapt it myself because I wanted to tailor the text to our ensemble and our collective impressions and reactions to the work. For most of us, this is our first time putting on his work, and it felt important to dig through it together. In preparing the text, I found a lot of inspiration in the translations by Carol Rocamora (published 1996) and Libby Appel (published 2013). These versions are direct, urgent and alive, and I kept their swiftness in mind. The Appel text is also a great resource because it contains moments excised by the censors in Chekhov’s Russia – small bits of dialogue that help deepen our understanding of these characters.
How do you think “The Seagull’s” characters can still be pertinent in today’s world?
There’s a reason that audiences all over the world still do Chekhov, whether it’s a more traditional production or it’s on roller-skates (I have seen this! It was great). Anatoly Koni, who witnessed the first performance of “The Seagull” – one that, by Chekhov’s account, went pretty poorly – believed it captured “the sort of everyday life that is accessible to everyone and understood in its cruel internal irony by almost no one.” Human beings of all walks of life find truth in Chekhov, regardless of how they come to him. In “The Seagull,” Konstantin writes about the notion of a “Soul of All the World,” an entity that resembles all living things wandering a lonely world together in hopes of discovering something, anything that makes sense. I believe every play Chekhov wrote is about the “Soul of All the World.”