Anton Chekhov is considered by many scholars to be the father of modern realism. He was the author of novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and plays, including Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov wrote The Seagull in 1895, and it was first produced in 1896 at the Alexandrinsky Theatre where it was received so poorly that the actor playing Nina lost her voice from terror. After such a devastating failure, Chekhov decided that he would never write another play.
Konstantin Stanislavski, an actor and director who would come to be known as the father of modern acting, convinced Chekhov to let him remount the play for the brand new Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. As part of Stanislavski’s vision, he created a detailed physical and emotional “score” for the play, with specific moments where actors should blow their noses or wipe their faces, for example, as a way to help the actors coax out the “inner action,” or subtext, that was lying beneath Chekhov’s words. This brand new tactic worked, and the revival of The Seagull was a hit. As the first full production of the Moscow Art Theatre, The Seagull made a lasting mark: to this day, the symbol of the MAT is a seagull. It appears on the curtains of the theater, on all marketing and press, and, touchingly, on the gravestones of the men who brought the play to life.
The Seagull was unique in its treatment of drama, focusing primarily on accurately describing human life, creating complex characters with desires and hopes, and telling stories about enormous feelings —love, grief, jealousy — through the lens of realistic action. As Chekhov himself described the play, “It's a comedy, there are three women's parts, six men's, four acts, landscapes (view over a lake); a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love.”
The Seagull has enjoyed frequently theatrical revivals. Uta Hagen, the acclaimed actor and acting teacher, made her Broadway debut as Nina alongside Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in 1938. The Seagull has been revived twice since then: once in 1992 with Laura Linney (Nina), Ethan Hawke (Konstantin), and Jon Voight (Trigorin), and most recently in 2008 with Kristen Scott Thomas (Arkadina), Carey Mulligan (Nina), and Peter Saarsgard (Trigorin). The play has also been adapted frequently. Some adaptations include Tennessee Williams’ play The Notebook of Trigorin, Regina Taylor’s African-American adaptation Drowning Crow, Emily Mann’s play A Seagull in the Hamptons, and most recently, Aaron Posner’s Stupid F*ing Bird.
There are numerous translations of The Seagull. The most frequently used (and the one StageAgent recommends) is the Paul Schmidt translation.