Monday, November 8, 2010

Digging into Chekhov

By Neena Arndt, Literary Associate and Dramaturg for The Seagull

It’s easy to put on a Chekhov play. Lots of people do it. What’s hard is doing a Chekhov play well.

We who work in the theater know that. We know that Chekhov’s characters can seem out-of-date, that their meandering dialogue and inactivity can have a soporific effect on even the most avid playgoer. We have been put to sleep by Chekhov plays ourselves. We also know that the problem with most Chekhov productions is not Chekhov’s writing. The problem is that his writing is so subtle and nuanced that it is difficult for theater artists—especially those living in a culture and time period wholly different from Chekhov’s—to interpret. Even for those with talent and skill, Chekhov is hard. We who explore Chekhov are like ’49ers. (I mean the gold-seeking ones, not the football team, but feel free to invent your own Chekhov-is-like-football metaphor.) The ’49ers knew there was gold under the ground. They armed themselves with the best tools they could find. They worked hard. Some became dazzlingly rich; most did not. In Chekhov’s text, gold gleams underground. But it takes a skilled digger, and maybe a little luck, to shovel it up.

For those reasons, The Seagull is a brave and daunting choice. With our exceptional cast, led by intrepid director Robert Falls, it seemed from the beginning that we had a fighting chance at putting up a good Seagull. But not without a lot of work.

Over an extended rehearsal process, we dug deep. We explored character, we analyzed text, we used research to understand the society that the characters inhabit. We had a dance consultant, Béa Rashid, teach us Russian folk dances. Seasoned actors explored the play in ways they had never explored any play before. Some days, the exploration seemed to be going nowhere. Other days, we surged ahead, pulling shimmering nuggets from the ground one after another.

On stage, you will see the results of those weeks of hard work. We lay our gold before you.

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