Two years ago, I saw Benedict Andrews’ production of The Seagull at Belvoir Street Theatre, and fell in love with the play, with the aching emptiness and fragility that seemed to run underneath its neurotic chaotic surface. While I ultimately didn’t like the production on quite a profound level, I think Andrews was getting at something he couldn’t quite articulate effectively enough. And it got me thinking about it, about Chekhov’s play, about the production; about why these sorts of plays last, why they are called ‘classics.’ Before I go any further, I want to make a distinction clear: in theatre, there is a difference between the play and the production. While the two are often used interchangeably, the play more pedantically refers to the script, while the production connotes the specific envisioning of the script by the director, designers, actors and technicians.
In a letter to a friend in 1895, Chekhov described the play he was working on as “a comedy – three f., six m., four acts, a landscape (a view of a lake), much conversation about literature, little action, and five tons of love.” While it is a rather simplistic reduction of the play, it is nonetheless quite a succinct summary. If you were to examine the play, peel back its layers and try to get inside each of Chekhov’s characters, you’d find that ultimately it’s a play about love in all its different guises; yet, at the same time, in true Chekhovian fashion, it’s not particularly ‘about’ anything, except perhaps Life.