Before I became a blogger, I used to keep an electronic diary called “The Worry Journal.” Not meant for any kind of public disclosure, this was a way of recording all the internal doubts that a writer like me might go through in the course of a day and the course of a career. I tried to banish this voice on the blog–with good reason–and adopt the positive magnanimity of a producer first/writer second. I don’t think I’ve succeeded in banishing the Boy Worrier entirely, but this blog generally has taken the high-road in terms of solipsism, wouldn’tya say? It doesn’t worry excessively, or doubt all the choices previously committed to, only to be temporarily undone by second guessing, disappointment at interim findings; uncertainty run amok in the mind of the playmaker. But these natural (for some) thoughts swirl about as I contemplate the reactions–read: judgements/criticism–of a public soon to attend–or so we hope they attend; “descend” was the word I was going to use first, but I checked myself wondering, “what if they don’t ‘descend’ but merely ‘trickle in?'” Advance ticket sales are surprisingly modest for such an eminent group of actors performing in a classic, or so I presume, but having never produced a “souped up” classic before, I don’t have an advanced sale basis for comparison. I can only know what we hoped; what we projected. But then it’s really terrible to be a playwright thinking about single ticket targets; let the producer worry about that. Oh, wait; they‘re the same dude (!) –– the schizophrenic one in row L of the theater wearing two hats under one baseball cap (from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a left-over from the April DCJCC auction).
Bottom line is I’m gonna write my way through a nail-biter weekend where I essentially, do very little as talented designers, hard-working stage management, and an over-drive (generally brilliant) director do what they must do to fully animate and illustrate a show and actors get used to doing their scenes on stage; director John Vreeke continuing to play with spacing as we get accustomed to the stage. There’s a famous sequence for Treplev in Act I of the original Seagull when he picks petals from a flower and says, of his mother “She loves me; she loves me not. Loves me; loves me not. Loves me; loves me not.” We, of course, have changed that idiom because we’ve issued a shot across the bow of this play at the very outset with the creation of our very own new prologue and we need to keep inventing in critical places all evening long, at variously unfolding intervals, lest the energy of inventiveness entirely dissipate and we wind up with a creatively wan evening. I don’t think we’ll be in danger of that (hope not, at least). So our Treplev plucks imaginary petals and says, “Pursues passion for herself; pursues passion for me. Passion for herself; passion for me. Passion for herself… You see?!”
And so too I feel, like Treplev (and like our wonderful Alexander Strain, who expresses himself so well and nobly in yesterday’s posting, below), that this production “could be wonderful; could be horrible. Could be fabulous; could be failure. Could be exhilarating; could be embarrassing…” And so on. Not knowing. Feeling right now as though the classic (original) work is playing beautifully and anytime an adapted/original section or sentence comes up the show tanks. I’d hoped to eliminate all the stitchery, all the seams that indicate a meeting point between original translation and wholly invented new material. I wonder if I’ve succeeded at all in this regard, or if that was even desirable.
I identify with Alexander’s — and Treplev’s — butterfly feelings; the nervousness and fears that seem so in opposition to the moxie and didacticism and passion that informed the initial burst of creativity; the early decision to make a wild break from tradition by rejiggering it. Why rejigger a classic when that’s all people really want to see — an original the way it was meant to be. Well, who knows how it was meant to be 110 years later? Or after 110 years, why do yet another version the way it was meant to be?
Here’s what I worry about — or at least what raced through my mind last night watching the opening unfold on stage: Will people laugh? Do I prepare them to laugh? Mustn’t a playwright prepare the ground for laughter? An audience must know where they are and must understand the rules in order to feel comfortable enough to get it. Will we get it? Or will the funny lines fly by and audiences are still wondering “what’s going on? Who gave him permission to change Chekhov? Are we there or are we here? (And don’t say “both” — that’s what the stage directions say [see a much earlier SEAGULL posting for the opening excerpt] but who gets to hear stage directions in a production?
We may be accused of having double openings. Of having parallel musical concepts, introducing Shostokovich as our internal music taking us through the play — with R.E.M. songs slowed down and warbled by contemporary/period servant/stage manager Yakov singing “Shiny Happy People” and “This One Goes Out To The One I Love.” Perhaps both musical approaches are right and right on, in and of themselves, but stitched into the same body of work? And at play’s outset, they abut one another in a kind of smash cut, moving from an opening processional (actors coming down from a surprise entry way), and then there’s a frieze tableau and Yakov takes over with his introduction. We’ll have a frame within a frame (within a frame perhaps) by the time we’re 10 minutes into the play and either that’s going to be thrilling theater — fabulously ambitious in its theatricality, in its provocative upending of expectations as we play with a meta-theatrical reflexiveness recognizing that we’re both perpetrating a fictional uprooting of the original and making ourselves and the entire audience aware of that intentional shift, disclosing that we’re referencing our own situation as well as embodying Chekhov’s Russian characters — and audiences will get that and buy into the talent-escorted adventure of it all; or… they won’t…
So we’ll see. And you’ve heard enough from the Worry Journal, or “As the Author Ruminates on the Morning of the First Full Day of Tech after Last Night’s Beginning.” Some people are feeling very excited about all this. I will say one thing: the set is splendid; spare, clean, sophisticated. As are the performances. So how bad can it be?
I look forward to the other-side-of-the-coin twin sibling of fearful fretfulness; which is to say, Excitement! Eagerness! Anticipation! That may well be right around the corner.
Did I mention bi-polar? That’s why we love our Arkadina so. And all her many children…