"The Seagull" by Anton Chekhov
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The Seagull (Russian: Чайка, Chayka) is the first of what are generally considered to be the four major plays by the Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov. The Seagull was written in 1895 and first produced in 1896. It dramatises the romantic and artistic conflicts between four characters: the ingenue Nina, the fading actress Irina Arkadina, her son the symbolist playwright Konstantin Tréplev, and the famous middlebrow story writer Trigorin.

As with the rest of Chekhov's full-length plays, The Seagull relies upon an ensemble cast of diverse, fully developed characters. In contrast to the melodrama of the mainstream theatre of the 19th century, lurid actions (such as Konstantin's suicide attempts) are not shown onstage. Characters tend to speak in ways that skirt around issues rather than addressing them directly; in other words, their lines are full of what is known in dramatic practice as subtext, or text that is not spoken aloud.

The opening night of the first production was a famous failure. Vera Komissarzhevskaya, playing Nina, was so intimidated by the hostility of the audience that she lost her voice. Chekhov left the audience and spent the last two acts behind the scenes. When supporters wrote to him that the production later became a success, he assumed that they were merely trying to be kind. When Constantin Stanislavski, the seminal Russian theatre practitioner of the time, directed it in 1898 for his Moscow Art Theatre, the play was a triumph. Stanislavski's production of The Seagull became "one of the greatest events in the history of Russian theatre and one of the greatest new developments in the history of world drama."

Synopsis

Act I

The play takes place on a country estate owned by Sorin, a retired senior civil servant in failing health. He is the brother of the famous actress Arkadina, who has just arrived at the estate with her lover, the writer Trigorin, for a brief vacation. Sorin and his guests gather at an outdoor stage to see an unconventional play that Arkadina's son, Konstantin Treplyov, has written and directed. The play-within-a-play features Nina, a young woman who lives on a neighboring estate, as the "soul of the world" in a time far in the future. The play is his latest attempt at creating a new theatrical form, and resembles a dense symbolist work. Arkadina laughs at the play, finding it ridiculous and incomprehensible; the performance ends and Konstantin storms off in humiliation. Act I also sets up the play's various romantic triangles. The schoolteacher Medvedenko loves Masha, the daughter of the estate's steward. Masha, in turn, is in love with Konstantin, who is in love with Nina; Nina does not return his feelings. When Masha tells the kindly old doctor Dorn about her longing, he helplessly blames the moon and the lake for making everybody feel romantic.

Arkadina does not seem much concerned about her son, who has not found his way in the world. Although others ridicule Treplyov's drama, the physician Dorn praises him.

Act II

Act II takes place in the afternoon outside of the estate, a few days later. After reminiscing about happier times, Arkadina engages the house steward Shamrayev in a heated argument and decides to leave immediately. Nina lingers behind after the group leaves, and Konstantin shows up to give her a seagull that he has shot. Nina is confused and horrified at the gift. Konstantin sees Trigorin approaching, and leaves in a jealous fit. Nina asks Trigorin to tell her about the writer's life. He replies that it is not an easy one. Nina says that she knows the life of an actress is not easy either, but she wants more than anything to be one. Trigorin sees the seagull that Konstantin has shot and muses on how he could use it as a subject for a short story: "A young girl lives all her life on the shore of a lake. She loves the lake, like a seagull, and she's happy and free, like a seagull. But a man arrives by chance, and when he sees her, he destroys her, out of sheer boredom. Like this seagull." Arkadina calls for Trigorin and he leaves as she tells him that she has changed her mind, and they will not be leaving immediately. Nina lingers behind, enthralled with Trigorin's celebrity and modesty, and she gushes, "My dream!"

Act III

Act III takes place inside the estate, on the day when Arkadina and Trigorin have decided to depart. Between acts Konstantin attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head, but the bullet only grazed his skull. He spends the majority of Act III with his scalp heavily bandaged. Nina finds Trigorin eating breakfast and presents him with a medallion that proclaims her devotion to him using a line from one of Trigorin's own books: "If you ever need my life, come and take it." She retreats after begging for one last chance to see Trigorin before he leaves. Arkadina appears, followed by Sorin, whose health has continued to deteriorate. Trigorin leaves to continue packing. There is a brief argument between Arkadina and Sorin, after which Sorin collapses in grief. He is helped off by Medvedenko. Konstantin enters and asks his mother to change his bandage. As she is doing this, Konstantin disparages Trigorin and there is another argument. When Trigorin reenters, Konstantin leaves in tears. Trigorin asks Arkadina if they can stay at the estate. She flatters and cajoles him until he agrees to return to Moscow. After she has left, Nina comes to say her final goodbye to Trigorin and to inform him that she is running away to become an actress, against her parents' wishes. They kiss passionately and make plans to meet again in Moscow.

Act IV

Act IV takes place during the winter two years later, in the drawing room that has been converted to Konstantin's study. Masha has finally accepted Medvedenko's marriage proposal, and they have a child together, though Masha still nurses an unrequited love for Konstantin. Various characters discuss what has happened in the two years that have passed: Nina and Trigorin lived together in Moscow for a time until he abandoned her and went back to Arkadina. Nina never achieved any real success as an actress, and is currently on a tour of the provinces with a small theatre group. Konstantin has had some short stories published, but is increasingly depressed. Sorin's health is failing, and the people at the estate have telegraphed for Arkadina to come for his final days. Most of the play's characters go to the drawing room to play a game of bingo. Konstantin does not join them, and spends this time working on a manuscript at his desk. After the group leaves to eat dinner, Konstantin hears someone at the back door. He is surprised to find Nina, whom he invites inside. Nina tells Konstantin about her life over the last two years. She starts to compare herself to the seagull that Konstantin killed in Act II, then rejects that and says "I am an actress." She tells him that she was forced to tour with a second-rate theatre company after the death of the child she had with Trigorin, but she seems to have a newfound confidence. Konstantin pleads with her to stay, but she is in such disarray that his pleading means nothing. She embraces Konstantin, and leaves. Despondent, Konstantin spends two minutes silently tearing up his manuscripts before leaving the study. The group reenters and returns to the bingo game. There is a sudden gunshot from off-stage, and Dorn goes to investigate. He returns and takes Trigorin aside. Dorn tells Trigorin to somehow get Arkadina away, for Konstantin has just killed himself.

Characters

Name Age Gender Lines
Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina F
Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov M
Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin M
Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya F
Ilya Afanasyevich Shamrayev F
Polina Andryevna F
Masha F
Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin M
Yevgeny Sergeyevich Dorn M
Semyon Semyonovich Medvedenko M
Yakov M
Cook F
Maid F
Watchman M

Production History

Opening Venue Company
Oct 2, 2008 Walter Kerr Theatre
Mar 13, 2008 CSC Theatre Classic Stage Company
Aug 12, 2001 Delacorte Theater
Nov 29, 1992 Lyceum Theatre National Actors Theatre
Nov 24, 1983 American Place Theatre Circle Repertory Company
Nov 11, 1980 Newman Theater Joseph Papp Public Theater
Jan 8, 1975 Martinson Hall Joseph Papp Public Theater
Dec 18, 1973 Roundabout Theatre Roundabout Theatre Company
Apr 5, 1964 Belasco Theatre
Mar 21, 1962 Folksbiene Playhouse
Oct 22, 1956 Fourth Street Theatre
May 11, 1954 Phoenix Theatre Phoenix Theatre
Mar 28, 1938 Shubert Theatre
Feb 25, 1930 Waldorf Theatre
Sep 16, 1929 Civic Repertory Theatre
Apr 9, 1929 Comedy Theatre
May 20, 1916 Bandbox Theatre
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