The Russian Arts Theatre
The Center at West Park
New York, 2019
052 – The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov
The Seagull is the first of the four dramatic masterpieces that Anton Chekhov wrote in the last ten years of his short life. It was nearly the end of his playwriting career, however, because the first night of its premier production in St Petersburg in 1896 was a disaster. The audience laughed unsympathetically throughout, and the boos that greeted the final curtain drove its author to flee the theatre and to spend the night in a park hiding from the critics.
Fortunately when the play was remounted two years later by Konsantin Stanislavski and his Moscow Arts Theatre it became a popular triumph. In fact this production and the play heralded an important development in the history of the theatre, with Chekhov writing a more naturalistic form of drama and Stanislavski establishing new methods of performance that were seminal in the evolution of modern drama in the 20th century. The finely poised balance between comedy and tragedy in The Seagull, where we simultaneously laugh at and pity characters who struggle to achieve the lives they dreamed of, became emblematic of Chekhov’s drama. It’s a balance that confused its first critics, but signalled a modern sensibility that we recognise in the existential drama of Beckett and Pinter.
I have long loved The Seagull and am delighted to welcome playwright and professor, Dan Rebellato, back to the podcast to review Chekhov’s classic, yet timeless, play.
The Footnotes to our episode on The Seagull by Anton Chekhov include how the Moscow Arts Theatre adopted the seagull as their emblem, Chekhov’s active love life, the principle of Chekhov’s Gun, who is Masha’s father, and the comedy and tragedy of Konstantin.
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Photo by Helen Murray.
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