For years, I have wanted to direct a Chekhov play. The remarkable contrasts in this eccentric Russian’s body of work appeal to me. His plays are witty yet heart-breaking, colloquial yet poetic, and realistic yet allegorical. This almost-bipolar aesthetic makes Chekhov’s work a challenge to produce but a joy to explore.
We chose to set this version of The Seagull slightly east and a few years removed of its original 1898 Russian context. Our production takes place in 1920 in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. Last spring, I had the great joy of visiting NWC’s semester-long study abroad program in Romania. (If you are a NWC student, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this program!)
The stunning beauty of the landscape and the volcanic passion of the people remain two of the strongest impressions of my time in Romania. Our production builds on both of these inherently theatrical qualities. Costumes, scenery, lighting and original music evoke an era of Romanian history known for the cultural splendor, a period unscathed by today’s decimating legacy of communism. Through the acting, we strive to represent the passion and volatility present among many Eastern Europeans but particularly on display in the Romanian people. Legendary British director Peter Brook guides our acting values. Responding to the common misperception that Chekhov lacks passion, Brook contends, “These are not plays about lethargic people. They are hyper-vital people in a lethargic world, forced to dramatize the minutest happening out of passionate desire to live.”
Of Chekhov’s four established masterpieces (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard), we selected The Seagull for this Christian college production because the subject matter seems particularly applicable to young adults trying to find their path in a rapidly changing and confusing world. A play about art, The Seagullposes important questions that our students wrestle with, every day:
- Can we make art with integrity in a capitalist society?
- What is the role of the artist in the world?
- Why do we so often pursue a love (a passion, a career, a person) where it is withheld and refuse it where it is freely given?
We make no claims to comprehensively answer the vital questions raised through our production. Chekhov is far too unsentimental and complex for easy solutions. But hopefully, vicariously participating in the struggles of multifaceted characters from the other side of the globe will enable us all to carry these questions with us into the night, reflecting and growing as you go.