What can we learn about life and love from one of the greatest plays of all time, written by one of the greatest writers of all time, who also happened to define modern theater as we know it?
“Many conversations about literature, little action, five poods of love.” That is how Anton Chekhov described his comedy, in which Medvedenko loves Masha, Masha loves Treplev, Treplev loves Nina, and Nina loves Trigorin, all while Shamrayev loves Polina Andreyevna, Polina Andreyevna loves Dorn, Dorn loves Arkadina, and Arkadina loves Trigorin. The situation becomes less comedic for a little while when two of these characters fall in love with each other, but “the circumstances have unexpectedly made it so that” this arcadia does not last too long. There is “little action” in the play, just the characters living their lives: some suffer from the creative process, some search for fame, some desperately try to live, some constantly attempt to end their life—all while new art forms are struggling to coexist with the old. And—did we forget?—everyone is looking for love . . .
Translated by a Russian actor and director, this dramatic translation is deeply rooted in insights from his ongoing work on his own theatrical production as director and on the character of Trigorin as actor. Many textual and visual elements and clues that are essential to the story and character interpretation are presented in the English language for the first time. Additional materials, including the translator and director’s selected notes and audio and video resources, are available on the complementary website theseagullplay.com.
Ч, the trademark and service mark for our undertakings related to The Seagull, is both a letter in the Russian alphabet and a number.
The letter, pronounced as [ch], is the first letter of the following relevant words in Russian:
• the family name of the playwright;
• the name of the play [cháika];
• the family name of the composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, a contemporary and friend of Anton Chekhov, whose music is used extensively in the theatrical production;
• the word for the number four [chetýre].
The number symbolizes:
• the four acts;
• the four seasons corresponding to each of the four acts;
• the four movements of a symphony;
• the four characters whose lives intertwine the most.
The long months of shuttered playhouses that ensued could only satisfy a soul like The Seagull’s Treplev, the dutifully radical young writer who insists, in Korenev’s sensitive and musical new translation, that theater is but “a routine, a superstition” staged for crowds hungry for “some minuscule, easily digestible moral that could be useful in a conversation at home.” Korenev notes in a preface that the shutdown offered him the opportunity to dig deeply into the role of the character he’s slated to play in the revival: Trigorin, The Seagull’s other frustrated writer. Korenev took up this translation partially to understand the work that fills Trigorin up and utterly depletes him: writing.
The result is a nuanced, aching Seagull, attentive to the rhythms and melody of Chekhov’s own language, but unfussily direct in its English. “Life is rough!” declares Nina, the young actress, where earlier versions have opted for “It is a rough life” or “Life is crude.” Korenev’s version emphasizes its Russian-ness, right down to Chekhov’s insistence that this study of disappointment and suicide qualifies as comedy. Korenev’s sensitivities prove attuned to the desperate surges of feeling that grip Chekhov’s artists and lovers. In this rendering, the play’s monologues pulse with an aching vulnerability.
Takeaway: A new translation of Chekhov’s The Seagull pulses with an artist’s sensitivity.
Great for fans of: Sofia Khvoshchinskaya's City Folk and Country Folk, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation of Chekhov's Fifty-Two Stories.
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