Anatomy of a Rewrite (part 2) from Act I of our “Seagull…”

So the real issue at stake in considering a revision of the sequence in question (see last posting), is “how much of a monster is Arkadina being at this moment?” Or more diplomatically, does she really mean to subvert her son’s performance? How uncomfortable is she made to feel by its explicit content? How much is the manner of the presentation (stylistically over the top in both the original and the adaptation) the thing that triggers her traditionalist’s reaction?

In early versions of the staging, getting this scene up on its feet as fast as we could, Arkadina took to illustrating how she might dance in a kind of mock rejoinder to the work’s call to prayer. Then we thought better of this; she’s merely chiming in from her seat, in a kind of aside to the person seated next to her; but not being so crass as to get up in the middle of the performance and insist that the spotlight be on her and not Nina, the young ingenue. More incisively, our actor playing Arkadina, the great Naomi Jacobson, felt it wrong to say the line, “I was showing you where the jokes go” since she didn’t believe she was actually doing that during her disruptions. She WAS “trying to lighten things up,” as she says, for the benefit of all, and this felt like the stronger objective to take–play the positive of wanting/needing to please and impress the others, not to be destructive. So first we tried altering the “joke” line, since I felt it a useful line rhythmically within the back and forth of their argument. So the line became “I was showing you where the jokes COULD go.” But then we just cut it. As we did with Arkadina’s “I’m an ingenue in the bloom of…” Again, the idea to give Arkadina a bit more conviction in meaning what she says and trying to support her position.

This mother and son go at it again in Act III in their most intense encounter and there are more loving and vicious things they share with each other then. The added dimension of their ethnicity and fighting about how they choose to identify themselves allows the adaptation to expand their Act III slugfest to culminate with the following:

TREPLEV: I am more talented than the lot of you, and certainly with respect to “speaking truthfully,” you haven’t a clue! (Rips the bandage from his head.) You and your ‘elite’ have taken possession of art – you ordain that the only Real Art is what you create, and the rest you suppress and you suffocate with your profanity. I renounce the lot of you! You and him!

ARKADINA: Decadent!…

TREPLEV: Go back to your precious mausoleum, and perform in your Godless, mediocre, pathetic little plays!

ARKADINA: I have never appeared in a mediocre play! You, Principal Practitioner of Mediocrity, couldn’t even write one miserable Sunday School skit! You Muscovite bourgeois! You Minsk Parasite!

TREPLEV: Miser!

ARKADINA: Leach!

TREPLEV: Has-Been.

ARKADINA: Beggar! Jew! Nonentity!

(TREPLEV sits and cries)

Don’t cry. You mustn’t cry… (She weeps.) Please don’t…(Kisses him on the forehead, cheeks, head.) My darling child, forgive me… Forgive your wretched mother. Forgive your unhappy, lost, lonely mother.

* * *

And so, yes, we do have to marshall our reserves and not shoot our histrionic wad in Act I.

Which brings us to finding a substitute for “you old coot.” Well, we’re still fishing around, but I did begin to play around with some synonyms for the word “miser.” Which led me to an animal that hoards the nuts it gathers for the winter (and purportedly doesn’t share very well); our friend the “squirrel.” Which, all things considered, seems to work. As in “miserable squirrel,” to be countered by “miserable ingrate!”

Feels like home, doesn’t it?