Sept. 28--While watching Anton Chekhov's play, "The Seagull," an audience may be unsure of whether to laugh or feel bad for the characters in front of them.
That's a fairly normal reaction, said cast members of the ISU Theatre production. The group opened their own version of "The Seagull" in Fisher Theater this weekend, and actor Meghan Berkland said part of the play's charm is in the balance between comedy and tragedy.
"It's one of those things that it's funny because of how real it is, and how significantly the characters feel about things," said Berkland, junior in performing arts. "It's not slapstick humor, where people are falling over and getting hit in the face or anything, but it's those awkward moments that real people have that are just hysterical when you're not involved in them. So a lot of the comedy comes just from being people."
Director Matt Foss said the group's adaptation of the play is built from translated sections of the original Russian production, as well as other English translations, but they attempted to keep Chekhov's voice in their version.
"Chekhov said, 'You can't paint a beautiful landscape if you refuse to paint the manure piles in the foreground.' So that's something that's happening here -- where there will be something very beautiful and then something very normal; something magical and then the mundane," Foss said. "(The plays) are funny, but there's also some very serious themes in them as well."
One of "The Seagull's" characters, Konstantin Treplyov, is a prime example of the tragecomedy in Chekhov plays. Konstantin, a young developing writer, is attempting to create a new type of theater, but is failing. Actor Brent LeBlanc said his character can be relatable to anyone in life.
"The kind of new theater Konstantin is trying to do isn't working. He's trying to find his own way, and it's not quite there yet," said LeBlanc, senior in performing arts. "That's how it is in all of our lives, when we try to do theater or any other path we take. We fail a few times."
Konstantin's character also parallels a part of Chekhov's own life as a writer. "The Seagull" was his first large-scale play and while it was well-received, it was not particularly successful.
"It really shook Chekhov's faith in his ability as a dramatist," Foss said. "If it wasn't for the artistic staff, the individuals who started the Moscow Art Theatre, we probably wouldn't have gotten this play or any number of his."
Berkland said the cast tries to bring that element of realism and relatability to all of their characters in the show. Berkland credited Foss and ISU Theatre as a whole for teaching the actors to focus on understanding their characters and their backgrounds to create a better performance.
"It's not just getting up and doing your lines and putting on a play," Berkland said. "It's much more trying as honestly as you can to show who this person is, and find that little bit of yourself in who the characters, so you can show them full and funny as they are."
ISU Theatre's "The Seagull"
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: Fisher Theater
Cost: $17 adults, $15 seniors, $9 ISU students
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