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Chekhov's The SeagullHow do you interpret it?


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#1 innopac

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Posted 16 December 2009 - 09:33 PM

I am interested to know how people read Chekhov's The Seagull. For you is it a tragedy, a play with comedic and tragic elements, an absurdist comedy or none of the above. If you have seen a performance of The Seagull what has been the mood?

Specifically, is Konstantin a misunderstood genius or a fool. Does Nina have talent as an actress?

#2 dirac

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 07:18 PM

You know, innopac, I'm not sure if Konstantin is definitely one thing or the other. It is hard to call a play where a character commits suicide at the end a comedy, but I'm not sure if Konstantin is finally big enough as a person or a talent to call it tragedy.

I didn't think Nina had great actress potential, myself, but I might change my mind if I read the play again, which I haven't done for some years. I've never seen it live.

#3 bart

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Posted 18 December 2009 - 05:55 AM

I've been trying to think about your questions, innopac, but suddenly realized that this is not a play I've ever actually cared much about. As a result, my memories are dim.

I guess most of us have seen the late-60s film version with David Warner (Konstantine), Vanessa Redgrave (Nina) :wub: and Simone Signoret (unexpected casting for Arkadina, but tremendously moving in the way that a fish out of water draws our attention and sympathy). I also had the chance to see Eva Le Gallienne's Arkadina in New York, maybe 10 years before the film. She was a "great lady of the American theater" in her day. Unfortunately, I remember none of the other characters in that production.

Chekhov packs more into this play (in term of action, plot shifts, small personal arias, strangely unexplained surprises, etc.) than his other work. The story lacks the strong dramatic core that Cherry Orchard has. For me, it meanders. Much depends on whether you care about the characters and believe in them.

I guess your phrase "a play with comic and tragic elements" sums it up quite well. Nina is definitely an "actress" (of whom there are a geat many in life), but as for a stage career ....? Konstantin I just didn't care about. (Not as much as about the seagull.) My favorite characters come from the older generation: Arkadina and her brother Sorin, a small part, but lovely.

I'd love to hear more from those who know -- and appreciate -- this play better.

#4 innopac

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Posted 19 December 2009 - 01:36 AM

Maxim Gorky wrote this of Chekhov: "He spoke of his plays as if they were "lighthearted", and it seemed he was sincerely convinced that he wrote lighthearted plays. It was no doubt on the basis of Chekhov's own words that Savva Morozov obstinately insisted that "Chekhov's plays should be staged as lyrical comedies." Anton Chekhov and His Times compiled by Andrei Turkov. 1995. Page 165.

I was puzzled by the use of the word "comedy" in relation to The Seagull. But maybe it is the balancing of the comedic and tragic elements that is the key.

Thank you dirac and bart for responding. I am trying to reconcile the ballet with the play. I have read that Stanislavsky emphasized the darker elements. I think the ballet communicates the tragedy and emptiness of the characters' lives but doesn't capture the absurdities. For example at the end of the play Trepleff worries that his mother might be disturbed and upset if she hears Nina has been in the garden. And then he shoots himself.

#5 dirac

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 05:48 PM

innopac, I haven't seen the ballet but I can easily imagine that the sadder side of the play would come over better in dance than the more comic elements. In addition, any time you a work that is great in one art form to another, something is inevitably lost because as a rule the greater the work of art the closer the bond between story and form.

I was puzzled by the use of the word "comedy" in relation to The Seagull. But maybe it is the balancing of the comedic and tragic elements that is the key.


Yes. Chekhov is walking that fine line.

#6 bart

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Posted 21 December 2009 - 06:58 PM

It occurs to me that some of the "comedy" may reside in the lines themselves, the way they are spoken, the pauses, the things left out, the subtext -- i.e., elements that are lost in translation. There may also be cultural references (stated and unstated) that are specific to that time, place, class, etc., and which are no longer accessible to us. Maybe that's why some of the most playable translations are by contemporary dramatists working from literal translations made by others.


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