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Laughing With Chekhov

by Staff


Tags: Guthrie Theater, Royal Shakespeare Company, Anton Chekhov, writers, Bennett Gordon, theater,

Last weekend I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Housed in a gleaming new building, the Guthrie is one of the premier regional theaters in the country.

Chekhov’s play is filled with privileged, angst-ridden writers, directors, and actors, all desperately trying to convince each other how miserable their lives are. The Royal Shakespeare Company managed to make this funny, exposing the absurdity of the bohemian bourgeois depression.

The characters were obsessed by their own inferiority to Russian greats like Tolstoy and Turgenev—a kind of vanity, since they believed they should be as great as those men—and allowed this obsession to ruin their lives. I and other theatergoers laughed at the melodramatic characters, surrounded by wealth, crying in abject sorrow.

Then yesterday, I picked up the New York Times book review and read this passage by Marcel Theroux: “Tolstoy thought that The Seagull was a terrible play, and that Chekhov should never have put a writer in it. ‘There aren’t many of us, and no one is really interested,’ Tolstoy told a friend.”

Maybe that’s what makes writers so depressed. —Bennett Gordon