This is the third installment of a review of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, performed on Saturday August 18, 2001, at The Joseph Papp Public Theater in Central Park, New York, NY
Written, edited and coded into HTML
by Stephen C. Sanders copyright © 2001

||| Click here for part one. ||| Click here for part two. ||| Holy war ! yeah right. ||| Click here for part four. ||| Let's talk about War of the Economy.


This installment will attempt to trace some of the important symbolism in the play while maintaining the focus on the characters of Nina (Natalie Portman) and Trigorin (Kevin Kline). The character of Masha (performed by Marcia Gay Harden) will also be discussed.

The character of Masha (Marcia Gay Harden) is important because she introduces the theme of the play and is questioned by the Schoolteacher- Medvedenko (Stephen Spinella), as to why she is wearing black. She answers that she is mourning for her life. Certainly and a strange comment, which should alert the audience, that they are about to see an out of the ordinary production. Masha states that the performance is about to begin, and Medvedenko repeats the word performance, and a fair amount of sarcasm should have been obvious.

Then Medvedenko turns the topic into a "compare and contrast" theme regarding, the love between Nina and Konstantin as compared to the love between himself a school teacher and Masha the one who always wears black.

One could easily view these very characters as symbols, with the teacher being the one who sheds the light upon Masha who is always dressed in black.

We view Masha, as a dark and gloomy character, and our light-hearted school teacher is attracted to her. By contrast Konstantin, is dark and gloomy, and is attracted to the light and airy Nina. This idea will be re-visited when the big scene with Trigorin and Nina, as well as the performances of Kevin Kline and Natalie Portman (in this scene) finally get reviewed.

Chekhov has created characters in Medvedenko, and Masha, that are not truly totally developed or fleshed out if you will. These two characters have been assigned parts that are most akin to atmosphere. They introduce important elements in this play; serve as symbols, which we have to think hard to somehow decipher. Then they recede back into the play itself, as a backdrop (a setting if you will) from which we can continue, to view the dramatic conflict continue to unfold.

The sexual metaphors are there. We do not have to look too deep. Konstantin's play mentions fusion of matter and spirit. The interrupted play may contain more meaning, perhaps a reference to some universal fear of death. The play within a play must be stopped somehow, for even Chekhov must have realized the masses would have a very limited attention span for viewing Chekhov's post apocalyptical view of the universe, and its eventual reconstruction. The armchair critics (personified in Medvendenko, and later in Dorn) have a go at a critique of the unfinished play. Then Konstantin conveniently leaves the stage, Masha in pursuit, and enter Trigorin.

The character of Arkadina now in just eight separate lines of dialogue (Stoppard pg 14-15) is able to steer our focus away from her petulant son's insignificant production back to her favorite topic of interest, being sex.

It seems that Chekhov had developed a formula here, to keep his plays in production, Chekhov must have known what today’s advertising concerns constantly capitalize on, sex sells. This way he could introduce his prophetic snippets (via Konstantin and Trigorin), create a character (in Arkadina) who simply can not stand to look too deeply at anything of spiritual significance, and create a dramatic conflict, by pitting these characters against one another, struggling to survive.

The struggle to survive is a good launch to an entirely new essay. So let me make my point here and now, and make it quick. Seagulls struggle to survive by continuously competing with each other for scraps of food. As soon as an individual within the flock finds a scrap and moves towards it, the rest of the flock follows. Therefore in the very act of feeding, the seagull must then prepare for the competition. Getting back to the play, we can now make sense of the lines spoken by Trigorin in Act III when he is speaking with Masha (Stoppard, Trigorin pg 38).

Her son is being awfully difficult.
Not content with trying to shoot himself,
he now wants to challenge me to a duel,...
...He sulks and stamps his foot
and preaches his doctrine of new forms.
but there is plenty of room for all,
there's no need to push and shove.

Suffice it to say, that the work of Charles Darwin was not unknown (The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin was first published in 1858) in Chekhov's day. Anton Chekhov, who was also a an MD in addition to being a prolific writer, also knew his life would be short (like a flower) because he had Tb. Therefore, he must have felt the evolutionary pressure from the flock of great writers of his day if his works were to survive into the next millennium. Chekhov was only forty-four years old when he died.

The Flower as a Metaphor:

The flower is another important metaphor, threaded throughout the play. First we have Konstantin pulling a flower apart, "she loves me, she loves me not" in Act I,
Then we have the character of Dorn, " (hums softly) "Tell her my flowers...' " (Stoppard, Dorn pg 12) singing a little ditty about flowers.
Later in the same scene, we have Nina (Natalie Portman) the young aspiring virgin star, giving up her white posy flower, to Dorn. Which Dorn's lover Polina immediately tears up and throws to the floor. Polina Oh, aren't they pretty, so tiny and delicate...Give me those {flowers}. Give them to me ! (Stoppard, Polina, pg (29).

The flower metaphor was brilliantly woven into the plot.

The flowers spring up once again, in the very long dialogue delivered by Trigorin (Kevin Kline), the accomplished writer, to Nina (Natalie Portman).

There is actually more of this review, some tragic technological event lead to loss of about an hour and a half of intensive html code writing ! Now, I am in the process of re-writing what has already been written, ugh ! Technology, oh what a price we pay ! Also my spell checker on Microsoft word got killed somehow, and I desperately need a copy of FrontPage (I'm not too picky 2000 would be ok for a windows Me system). Anyone want to donate their software to the cause.

Also I need a sponsor for a huge Rosh Hashanah, event that will be occurring on September 17th, 2001, in New York City. You could remain anonymous if you like,
I will include the proper link to Kabbalah here soon !

My previously "unpublished" Kabbahlah inspired writing will be published here soon.

The following is an editorial comment from the author of this piece (me) regarding what meaning can be gleaned from Chekhov's work today.

One of the things I have learned is sometimes one should ask for what they need.

Today too many of us live life like the flock. There is no sharing in the flock, and constant pushing and shoving. From the little research I have already done on Chekhov, he was greatly concerned about the rights of man, as mentioned in The Seagull.

My personal belief is that there is no shortage of wealth in this nation, as well as in the world. Political theorists would have us believe that the economy of our country has taken a major downturn simply because perhaps a handful of the wealthiest have lost a few poorly placed bets on the great economic roulette wheel of "high tech stocks".

Our nation's leader would now have you believe the same "voodoo economy" nonsense that his party predecessors have promoted.

Many armchair critics have already sited the president's agenda as nothing short of class war.

I suppose I could go on with this thread but do not want alienate too many of my potential readers. One might wonder how Chekhov might have discussed the problems that plagued his country in his day.

I would like to invite such a spirited discussion on my other web page, so that we could bring the theme that begun as an analysis of Chekhov's play, into a modern arena, and ask how different is the time period we live in now, to the one that inspired and yes pushed Chekhov to feel as if his contributions as a great writer, were simply not enough with the backdrop of the people's suffering in his homeland.

In all fairness to you the reader, so as not to feel as if you have been brought here on some false pretense, I will borrow the words of Chekhov himself (substituting only one word).

" I love America and its people, and I feel that if I'm a writer it's up me to speak about our people's troubles, their fate, and to have something to say about science, and the rights of man I speak about everything ! I rush around, urged on from every side- people getting cross with me-
I dash this way and that like a fox with the hounds on its trail.
Ahead of me I can see Science and the Rights of Man
leaving me behind as I chase after them
like some yokel missing a train "

(Tom Stoppard, Trigorin, pg 34)

Then Chekhov is very hard on himself as he has Trigorin deliver the lines about himself:

" I know how to write and in everything else I'm a fake,
a fake to the marrow of my bones."

(Anton Chekhov The Seagull, A New Version by Tom Stoppard, Trigorin, pg 34)

Written, edited, and coded into html by Stephen C. Sanders, September, 5, 2001

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