from “The Writer’s Journal” (on Adaptation, cont’d)

We’re busy blogging, the three of us–Becky, Shirley, and Ari–and it’s a way to keep talking about art when we’re each of us doing our own work thing, only I’m doing mine from 800 miles away, off Lake Michigan where we’ve just come to see family after dropping our Izzy off at Oberlin for Year #2.   While here, we converse about the theater, and we worry about it–this week, a whole new drama over housing for our non-local artists–a major wrinkle in our plans emerges and one is quickly reminded, there is no such thing as vacation with a cell phone that has email. One is always close. But more accurately, I’m eager to return because we have fires to put out and contingencies to explore. Cryptic enough? Hey, we’re discreet here on the blog (that’s what some people keep reminding me to be), and so we shall remain, even as we worry about how we preserve at least some of the great things we’ve had going and what we do about that which we’re about to lose… 

But back to the journal entry. One thing you can do here in Michiana, even as you’re worrying about the theater while writing and reading and corresponding, is you can walk down to the beach, with manuscript in one hand, a red Flair pen in the other, and you can stop in the middle of Tahoma Trail and make notes on the back of a manuscript while standing, doing your very best absent-minded-Einstein.   So I’m walking down to Stop 42 yesterday, with Shirley’s blog entry still in mind and the manuscript to THE SEAGULL ON 16th STREET still in hand, when I stop to jot these notes:

Why The Seagull this way? Which is to say “our” way:

– Imposing our own drama onto its…

– We identify with the themes of THE SEAGULL personally, pervasively, and profoundly, and see ourselves in this Chekhov play more than in any other. 

The three dominant themes:

1) The battle over art and its content. What is our theater to be about? (In the original, Treplev rails against stuffy, superficial ‘old forms;’ he demands a New Theater with new content.)  While all the ‘Identity discussions’ at TJ have been bout the nature of our content in our art; how culturally specific are we to be?  What dominates: The particular or the universal? What’s our subject? What gives people such a hard time? God? Faith? The bible? Whither these in the heathen art-form that is the theater and its pagan lore?)

1A) The place of the young artist in the firmament of the theater:  Poor Treplev is on the outside looking in. All he really wants, it seems, is to be in the game–participating as a writer, and a theater maker, applauded and approved of, just like the elders who surround him. Instead, this college drop-out feels excluded and forms a rash of bellicose dictums accordingly. We recognize, with some poignancy, the bitter rantings of the marginalized artist. There, but for the grace of god… Were we there once ourselves; on the outside looking in?

2) The place of passion and of romance within our personal/professional/domestic lives: Love drives us crazy and to distraction. There’s nothing more important. The liberation of the heart and its desire for fulfillment triumphs (almost) all. See how everyone in THE SEAGULL is driven crazy by unrequited passion. What’s most important to them? Their JOBS? Or the quest to fulfill their hearts?  Personalize this!   Well, isn’t that the paydirt of the whole enterprise:  Trigorin’s coming into passion–which is also a kind of loutish and destructive behavior–is thrilling and scary, and it sure will be fun to watch Jerry Whiddon go through with it.  And if he can’t handle it, maybe I can teach him.  Maybe.  What do I know?   But let’s not forget.  This is the pay-dirt. We must personalize Trigorin–the established writer–every bit as much as Treplev, the struggler.  The uncovering of Trigorin’s desire… Makes me now want to go and read Tennessee Williams’ adaptation, THE NOTEBOOK OF TRIGORIN: A FREE ADAPTATION…

3) The Mother-Son Drama: A son in the clutches of maternal influence. Unable to break the grip, try as he might. His rebellion takes place on her terrain, and on her terms, which is to say, through the theater.  And this is why we say, at its heart, THE SEAGULL is a Jewish play.  Because this relationship has unmistakable–forget Oedipal traces; it has unmistakable–JEWISH FINGERPRINTS.  Which is also to say a universal DNA.  But that third act bandaging scene… is right out of my childhood(!) 

So those strands–so dominant in the original SEAGULL–carry tremendous weight with us. In our charge to bring THE SEAGULL to life, we’re driven to make this SEAGULL personal. Let’s repeat that in bold, as to why we’re doing our adaptation this particular way:

We’re driven to make this SEAGULL personal. Without transplanting THE SEAGULL to our times. Rather, BRING US TO THEM. Bring our personal identifications as completely and authentically as we can INTO Chekhov’s original milieu. That’s the strategy: Bring our theater’s world to his.

Well, it seemed momentous at the time! Worth stopping on the side of the road and scribbling. Loses something in the transcribing, perhaps. Ah, but that’s life. That’s Chekhov. And I guess that’s us too.