I have read so many books that refer to or quote from Anton Chechov, that I knew eventually I would have to pick up one of his works, regardless of my tempestuous relationship with Russian literature. And lo, a wild play appears! No, really, it was free on the Kindle. Chekhov’s The Seagull.
For this review, I have to try very hard to separate the technical critique from my personal reaction, so we’ll go with the part that should be impartial first. I can admit, right up front, that I think Chekhov deserves the reputation that he has. My trouble with Russian literature is that I’m not reading it in Russian, nor am I Russian, so I’m sure I’m losing a lot of the tone and references and everything that makes some of these unbearably melodramatic works wonderful. But with Chekhov, I can relax into his writing and not constantly be ripped out of the narrative because my suspension-of-disbelief shattered over a character’s actions. So that definitely helped. He also presented the ideas in this work in a unique way that pushes the comfort boundary of his audience (at least this audience) in its use of a dead seagull as metaphor. So, in all of that, I found it remarkably successful.
Of course, therein also lies my complaint about this play. A fledgling writer who has yet to make their first big step onto the publishing stage should NOT read this when in a vulnerable state, such as looking for an agent. *cough*ME!*cough* It presents an incredibly bleak perspective of young writers and the art/popularity bipolarity. And it does not end happily for the young writer involved. Yes, the well established writer is doing fine, but young Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov does not do so well. (Yeah, say that 10 times fast.) I don’t want to spoil things too much for those who like a decent surprise in their plays, but he ends up rather like that seagull he shot in Act II. The whole thing feels like an enormous metaphor for the emerging writer, with Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya playing the part of the fickle public who is loyal and adoring to an older, established writer, while still liking the attentions of the young artist. So, on the whole, not real encouraging to all of us fledglings out here trying to get our wings under us.
In summary, maybe don’t read this one as your first Chekhov when trying to break into a notoriously capricious market, but it is still a fine example of Russian play-writing.