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Flocking to "The Seagull"

The University of Vermont's Department of Theatre is in the midst of a production of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" at the Royall Tyler Theatre.

Peter Jack Tkatch , in his director's notes, mentions some of Chekhov's letters and their comments about this play, quoting the line: 'I began it forte and finished it pianissimo, contrary to all the laws of theater'.

Having mentioned it, however, he and his cast of players gave us no forte to start with, and if there was a pianissimo at the end, he had no tensile strength to hold us in the grip of catharsis. (I realize that the quote has many more applications, and that not only was Chekhov trying to present a play less modeled on more ancient forms of playwriting- indeed, Chekhov deliberately drew his characters themselves so that they would appear to be engrossed in one way or another with the problems of writing.

Of the available translations, I was advised that, in the opinion of the friend from whom I sought information, that this was not the best possible choice of script for a production. Even if that be true, much of what was said and the actors certainly knew their lines, especially Trigorin (Joshua Clarke) and Nina (Paige Kelley), each of whom has an extended monologue of considerable length, failed to sound informed by the emotions, by the subtleties of similes or metaphors or references in the script to places or events, especially the finding of the dead seagull (the seagull, although stuffed and mounted, must have been ill, because his understudy was clearly a swan).

The young cast members especially young in usable personal experiences that could underpin the emotions of the characters whom they were portraying were able to keep the momentum of the play going, but they were sometimes hindered by the staging or the lack of staging by Tkatch. Both Trigorin and Nina were almost motionless during their extended monologues, something that I do not believe we ever occur in real life: movement seems to be part and parcel of these long monologue, but not just any movement: movement that betrays the inner feelings that are counter to the words or parallel with the words, movements that well up out of the words and illuminate the text and give the whole scene, the entire play, tension. There was absolutely no tensile strength in the readings of the lines. Members of the cast such as Molly Dowd Sullivan and Bretton John Reis managed some of the humor that is inherent in the play, but they could have had even more of a response. Matthew Trollinger managed the difficult role of Trepleff, but he was not able on his own to produce than necessary tension for us to see before the final curtain falls.

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