What’s the deal with the seagull?

PrintThis is the first of a few posts that I’m writing about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. Opening on May 19th!

A tiny bit about The Seagull:

Anton Chekhov wrote The Seagull in 1895, and it was performed a year later in Petersburg. In 1909, the play was translated from Russian to English. During the past 100+ years, there have been dozens of additional translations and adaptations, and countless productions of The Seagull. It’s one of those plays that continues to capture people’s imaginations. Wikipedia can tell you more.

I first read The Seagull in college (eep, 20 years ago!), and I remember thinking that it was an amazing but odd little play where not much happened. Mostly, people sat around and talked about….I don’t know….life…whatever….? And I totally didn’t get the whacky obsession with the dead seagull (Weird metaphor alert!). At that point in my theatre-making life, I was most excited by Shakespeare’s style of overthrowing kings and brandishing swords and epic drama and chest-pounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still into that, but these days I really dig the subtle dramas of everyday life and the undercurrent of emotion that bubbles below the surface of our interactions. Our days are thick with feelings, dreams, aspirations, and disappointments. Maybe those interest me most because that’s what I have in my life right now. Not much epic drama or brandishing swords, thank goodness.

SparkNotes describes Chekhov’s writing this way:

His plays marked a new movement in the theatre with their use of subtext, intimacy, colloquialisms and realism. His comedy-tragedies were unlike any plays that audiences had seen before because they made drama out of everyday circumstances, such as love and longing, instead of portraying the grand gestures of heroes and heroines of earlier plays.

Two years ago, I was re-introduced to The Seagull in a Chekhov class taught by Jaybird O’Berski. The play blew my socks off. The themes and conversations felt remarkably fresh and contemporary. The characters were damn deep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read different translations and adaptations and various essays and reviews. Then I got the zany idea to write a new play inspired by Chekhov’s Seagull. It’s an homage, really, because I’m so fond of the original.*

I wrote an adaptation with the help and support from a whole lot of people. (More on that in another post.) Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, of which I am a longtime ensemble member, was kind enough to produce it. In less than two weeks, The New Colossus, produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, will open at Manbites Dog Theatre in downtown Durham. I’m weak with excitement and gratitude.

This is the teaser description:

A family of frustrated, attention-starved artists flocks to the seashore. One of them has a gun…what could possibly go wrong? A darkly comic reboot of Chekhov’s classic, this rollicking tale examines the pitfalls of making art and making love in modern day America.

Hopefully, people who don’t know The Seagull will enjoy The New Colossus as a stand alone play and be inspired to read the original. Hopefully, longtime Chekhov fans will enjoy the ways we’ve reimagined this work.  The basic story elements remain — they are the reasons I fell in love with the play in the first place. However, I did make some noteworthy changes. Some examples: one character never comes on-stage, two characters merged into one, the scene order is different, music and dance and video are more pervasive, and there are several new and transformed scenes. In particular, I added two new scenes so the female characters can talk to one another. (Those interactions were missing from the original and I was curious to consider them.) Most surprising to me, setting the play in 2016 had the biggest ripple effect on the entire project. It seemed pretty straightforward at first — just dress the characters in modern day clothing and sprinkle in some modern words! — but the ways in which we interact with art, fame, community, family, technology, health, and success seem different than they were for Chekhov’s Russian characters in 1895. The tools are different. The love and the longing are still there, but we manage them differently today, I think.

I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

And there’s still the dead seagull. What’s up with that?

THE NEW COLOSSUS opens May 19 and plays for 3 weekends in Durham, NC. Get some tickets.

*Regarding the use of the word ‘original’: I didn’t read The Seagull as it was first written in Russian. I’m sure that limits my understanding of the play in some important ways.