A Chekhovian Evening

As part of a Chekhov production workshop to supplement our Three Sisters rehearsal process, we went to see a production of The Seagull at Brandeis University. Most of the actors were in the MFA program there. The play was directed by Shira Milikowsky, and it was a new translation by Ryan McKittrick and Julia Smeliansky.

I can’t remember if I’d ever seen a Chekhov piece staged before, so for practicality, let us say this was my first time. Production aside, it was incredibly important to see Chekhov while working on Chekhov for several reasons. First, it gave me some perspective on things to think about when producing our own work. Each of Chekhov’s plays is its own entity, of course, but there are certain “Chekhovian characteristics” and themes that span across his works. Second, it was good to interpret how an audience without a deep appreciation for theatre might approach the piece, and how to make it Make Sense for them.

That being said, some thoughts about the piece:

-There was mutual consensus among my cast mates about the actor who played Konstantin–Eddie Shields, a third year in the MFA program. WOW. I think it’s a testament to his performance that my eye naturally wandered to him whenever he was onstage, no matter the scene–what was he doing, what was he thinking, how was he going to react? Shields clearly developed a rich internal life for Konstantin, and there was something of a lost, boyish layer to his performance that I thought was an interesting choice. This is not something I gathered on my own from the text.

-At first, I wasn’t convinced by the actress who portrayed Masha, Laura Jo Trexler. I think the danger with all Mashas across Chekhov is the idea that exists about what Masha should be (I’m curious to know whether Chekhov knew a woman named Masha and what she was like–judging by the characters he names after her, she must have been one special case), and it’s hard not to fall into those choices. However, my professor/our production’s dramaturg pointed out something I hadn’t thought of before. In our studies of Chekhov, we’ve devised four major themes acting in his work: Nature, Love, Work, and Time. Masha was the only one who produced a convincing case for love in the play (aside from Konstantin).

-The last point that stuck with me was the final line uttered by Dr. Dorn (played by Jonathan Young). It was the ideal example of “a button” in a play, and the sincerity and reality with which he uttered, “get Irina away from here. Konstantin’s just shot himself,” affected me to the reality of the situation.

I wish the production value would have been stronger, though I suspect that had more to do with funding and less to do with choices, which is sad.

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