play twenty three: the seagull

Kristin Scott Thomas as Irena Nikolayevna Arkadina. Perfect.
Kristin Scott Thomas as Irena Nikolayevna Arkadina. Perfect.

Author: Anton Chekhov

Published: 1896

Translator: Elisaveta Fen

Synopsis: Kostia and his sweetheart Nina put on a show for the local families by the lake at his Uncle Sorin’s estate. Kostia is determined to find a new art form and to impress both his histrionic mother, the famous actress Irina Arkadina, and her follower Trigorin, a famous writer. The failure of his work pulls a thread that leads to the gradual unravelling of his life.

What moved me: I’m not sure whether it was because Ivanov was written in a fortnight, or whether it was because Checkhov was 27 and it wasn’t until he was 36 when The Seagull was first produced (I don’t even know if this really does make any difference at all) but the development between these two works is like Polyxena’s shooting star wiped across the sky. Between these two plays irritation has been replaced by devastation. Everything has a purpose. Kostia’s botched suicide attempt is emblematic of every character’s aborted desire and false hope. The way in which the seagull reconnects moments in time across years of turmoil that are lived offstage is painful in its simplicity. And that ending. Fuck.

Also, it is interesting to note what has carried across into this work: the presence of a doctor as a key character, and the presence of Hamlet (Ivanov was sickened by his likeness to him; the players in The Seagull cannot help but quote him) and the work of Gogol as key weaves in the play-fabric.

play twenty one: cat on a hot tin roof

What a pair.
What a pair.

Author: Tennessee Williams

Published: 1955

Synopsis: A family sweats around the unspoken in a plantation home in the Mississippi Delta. It’s Big Daddy’s birthday and he’s been given false hope about his terminal illness, his youngest son Brick is drinking himself to death, Brick’s wife Maggie is doing her best to make what she can of a loveless marriage, and the whole family are festering over who will inherit.

What moved me: like Arthur Miller, I think the full strength of Williams’ genius can be found in the clarity and depth of his stage directions.

BRICK [stopping short downstage as if backed to a wall]: ‘Not right’?

BIG DADDY: Not, well, exactly normal in your friendship with –

BRICK: They suggested that, too? I thought that was Maggie’s suggestion.

[Brick’s detachment is at last broken through. His heart is accelerated; his forehead sweat-beaded; his breath becomes more rapid and his voice hoarse. The thing they’re discussing, timidly and painfully on the side of Big Daddy, fiercely, violently on Brick’s side, is the inadmissible thing that Skipper died to disavow between them. The fact that if it existed it had to be disavowed to ‘keep face’ in the world they lived in, may be at the heart of the ‘mendacity’ that Brick drinks to kill his disgust with. It may be the root of his collapse. Or maybe it is only a single manifestation of it, not even the most important. The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent – fiercely charged! – interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis. Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself. This does not absolve the playwright of his duty to observe and probe as clearly and deeply as he legitimately can: but it should steer him away from ‘pat’ conclusions, facile definitions which make a play just a play, not a snare for the truth of human experience. […] ]

BIG MAMA [terrified, rising]: Is there? Something? Something that I? Don’t – Know?

[In these few words, this startled, very soft, question, Big Mama reviews the history of her forty-five years with Big Daddy, her great, almost embarassingly true-hearted and simple-minded devotion to Big Daddy, who must have had something Brick has, who made himself loved so much by the ‘simple expedient’ of not loving enough to disturb his charming detachment, also once couple, like Brick’s, with virile beauty.

Big Mama has a dignity at this moment: she almost stops being fat.]