Back in 1898, the newly formed Moscow Art Theatre gathered to read a new play that would be the last production of their first season. This occasion has been preserved by a wonderful posed photograph:
The playwright, Anton Chekhov, is at the center, reading from his play, The Seagull, surrounded by the listening cast. Sitting to Chekhov's right is Konstantin Stanislavski, the theatre's stage director who would also play the writer Trigorin in the Moscow production.To his right, standing, is Olga Knipper, the young actress who would take a leading role in the play, then become Chekhov's girlfriend, and later, his wife. The other actors present are a team of Russian all stars, the core group of the most influential ensemble theater of modern times.
In March of 2011, a cast gathered at THEATREWORKS for a first reading of the last play of our current season. The playwright wasn't present. As usual at THEATREWORKS, Shakespeare hovered over everything. Shakespeare hovers over The Seagull too-- the play is Chekhov's variation of Hamlet). Our occasion was a less formal one, and the photographs, taken by Steve Wallace, were not posed. We had more food. I especially like how the script is right next to a jar of mixed nuts, which pretty well describes both our cast and Chekhov's characters.
Very soon we're stumbling on our feet, beginning to map the play--and almost immediately you can feel the mood.
Among other things, The Seagull is a play about actors. An actress visits her brother's estate, and she is so bored. She says, "Oh, is there anything more boring than this pure country boredom? It's hot, it's sleepy, no one's doing anything . . . It's nice to be with you my friends, I enjoy listening to you, but . .. to be sitting in a hotel room and learning my lines---what could be better?"
And the young girl, Nina (played by Jamie Romero), who dreams of a life on stage, says, "Oh yes! I know exactly what you mean."
Life imitates art imitating life. Here is Jamie Nina Zarechnaya, watching rehearsal from the wings:
Here she is learning her lines:
Really, what could be better?