In this mixed student crew, we are trying to perceive psychological realism but not biological! These are the introductory words to the Romanian student performance directed by Florin Caracala and loosely based on the slice-of-life play of Russian realist and naturalist playwright Anton Chekhov. The quirky narrator speaks in verse, announces 10 perplexed characters crippled by love (unrequited love and tragic destinies are one of the frequent themes in Sturm und Drang), and reveals the concept of the performance – male actors are playing female characters, and female actresses are playing male characters. This decision will reflect in acting style, in costumes, and will paint the performance with an ironic and investigative perspective in dealing with Chekhov’s original play. In Chekhov’s plays, comedy and tragedy are inextricably intertwined, and even though he described his plays as comedies, his humor is not conventional, it stems from pessimistic worldview, absurdity and the lack of action Checkhov’s plays are known for. Romantic triangles, parent-child, friendly and communal relations, present in the original play, are now being explored by allowing the actors and actresses the opportunity to experience the point of view and emotional state of characters of the opposite sex. The narrative follows the original 4 acts structure with an added prologue and an epilogue, and is based on short monologues with dynamic interchanges between the characters and playing scenes with dialogues. The core of each character, such as a fading actress Arkadina, along with her son and an ambitious playwright Treplev, or her lover and a successful writer Trigorin, is borrowed from the original play and compacted into a monologue. Nina, an aspiring young actress played by a male character wearing a blond wig and a flowery dress appears at the stage with a ukulele that becomes an extension of her actorial body. The rest of the cast has a peculiarity that emphasizes their presence on stage as well; Samraev, for example, has a tonal distinction, he shouts while speaking. Each character only gets a couple of minutes of verses to share with the audience before they get pushed out of the stage. Nina, it is your crime, that you have ruined my rhyme, verbally justifies the Narrator one of the directorial tools used in the performance while Nina abruptly leaves the stage. The monologues, written by the Colectiv, are characterized by auto-irony, cynicism, dry humor, and sharp and rhythmical one-liners. The live music, written by Ovidiu Cirstea and consisting of acoustic guitar and the ukulele, is played on the stage to create the emotional layer of atmosphere, and the description of the scenery is read aloud by the actors between the acts. The actors doing the monologue are at the front of a long rectangular stage, and behind them are the scenographical elements such as tables, chairs, a sofa, and a mirror. The scenography somewhat portrays the context, but mostly has ornamental and not so much practical use. The costumes match the personalities of the characters, such as Arkadina’s flamboyant red dress further emphasizing her obsession with appearing youthful, or Masha’s blue and black lace dress reflecting her mournful emotional state. Ellipsis between the acts in the original narrative is being filled in by the Narrator, and some of the plot information that would usually be revealed through the dialogue, is here being described; using the narrator in a performance is nowadays often seen in a theatre, but not as often when it comes to staging Checkhov’s plays. On the one hand, the role of a narrator structurally connects the monologues with playing scenes and gives the original play a witty auto-commentary perspective, and, on the other hand, using this dramaturgical tool diverges greatly from the original play’s dynamics and seems like an artificial element. The director and the Colectiv seem to be fully aware of this, as they included a character of Chekhov in the ending scene, claiming he enjoys more old school performances. Be it justified or not, The Seagull is a brave and witty attempt to re-interpret one of the great Russian masters of playwriting and short fiction, and it most certainly fits the Festival’s Sturm und Drang theme celebrating the exploration of feeling in all forms.
AUTHOR: Ajla Medanhodzic