After the opening night of The Seagull in St. Petersburg on October 17, 1896, Anton Chekhov wrote to his friend and publisher Suvorin, "Stop the publication of my plays. I shall never forget last evening… I shall not have that play produced in Moscow, ever. Never again shall I write plays or have them staged."
Whoa. What happened? Well, the premiere had been an epic, epic fail. The audience booed and jeered. They laughed during Nina's Act 1 monologue. Critics trashed the play. Chekhov was humiliated. A successful short story writer, he vowed never to write plays again.
Thankfully, ol' Anton bucked up and kept churning out the brilliance.
Fast forward to 1897, when director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and actor-producer Constantin Stanislavski established the revolutionary Moscow Art Theater (MAT). The MAT— now one of the most storied theaters in the world—was devoted to a new naturalism in the theater, and Nemirovich-Danchenko wanted to remount The Seagull. Chekhov eventually relented, and the overwhelming success of that production established MAT as an influential theater, and Chekhov as a respected playwright.
And thank goodness. Without the MAT and the brilliant men who helmed it, the world might have been short not only this play—a heart-wrenching but surprisingly hilarious story about an aspiring playwright and his own failed play (sound familiar?), his overbearing mother and her literati lover, and the young woman who eventually leaves the playwright for the literary superstar.
We know, we know. The whole love triangle thing in The Seagull is like Kanye's 808s and Heartbreak on repeat… forever. We mean, really: there's not one person in Russia crushed out on someone who actually loves him or her back? Why can't Chekhov show us some love that's, well, requited?
Because, as humans, we can't get no satisfaction. Our longing is a bottomless pit. The Seagull is all about what we want that we cannot have: love, success, money, eternal life. You've never been there, right? Us neither. Never wanted to be richer. Never envied a classmate. Never fallen for someone who looks right through us. Right.
As characters in The Seagull chase their dreams, obsess over them, achieve them, abandon them, and concoct new dreams, Chekhov seems to be saying that the dreams may change, but the dreaming won't. Our want is a constant.
Scroll down for links to biographies, quotes, and full texts. It's a Chekhovfest.
"Geography of Regret"
A review of the 2008 Broadway production, by The New Yorker.
The Seagull, 1968
We're surprised there are so few film adaptations of The Seagull. Here's an old one (1968) starring Vanessa Redgrave as Nina.
An excerpt from a 1970 Russian film adaptation of the play. Yes, there are subtitles.
A really interesting Russian montage of quotes, photos, and film clips, giving a picture of Chekhov's life.
Writers from the event magazine Time Out New York give a pretty hilarious primer on Chekhov's themes.
NPR Story: "Writer Hampton Transforms The Seagull Onstage"
An interview with Christopher Hampton, who adapted The Seagull for the 2008 Broadway production.
A number of good photos of Chekhov—some with his signature—are on this site. He was a hottie.
The Seagull on Broadway
Kristen Scott Thomas played Arkadina and Peter Sarsgaard portrayed Trigorin in the 2008 Broadway production.