The stage can bring smiles or tears to an audience. Bainbridge High School’s theater is focusing on both.
Students with the high school’s theater company will deliver four performances of “The Seagull,” by the famed Russian writer Anton Chekhov, this weekend.
“The Seagull” is Chekhov’s 1895 character-driven play about artists facing their failures, successes, and themselves. The play took on a more serious tone than other stage productions of its day.
“It’s always intrigued me. It’s from 1895 and was the beginning of modern theater,” said director Barbara Hume.
“It was shunned and there was a riot in Moscow, because people were expecting a comedy; vaudeville was the genre of the day,” she said.
Chekhov wanted to add a dose of reality to the comedy that was so potent on stage.
“He was a frustrated playwright, he was frustrated with the facade of theater,” Hume said. “He wanted to bring real life issues to the stage, and it hadn’t been done before.”
The play is taught in some of Bainbridge High School’s 10th-grade English classes. The student actors have taken to the sophisticated play rather well, and prove they can deliver a performance on issues that are more than a century old.
“It’s really such an honor to attempt a Chekhov play,” said Clara Hayes, a BHS senior. “It’s really exciting for us and the characters have so much depth; it’s really cool.”
Hayes takes on the role of Nina, a young actress attracted to the artistic lifestyle and the fame it can bring.
But Nina’s father is strict and keeps her on a short leash. She finds an escape in the company of Konstantin’s family, a group of bohemians and artists.
But while Konstantin and Nina are a couple, they aren’t exactly on the same page. Nina is more attracted to Konstantin’s lifestyle and fame. Konstantin has a different perspective.
“I’m more enamored with her for who she is, but she’s more enamored with my background, not really with who I am,” said Arie Thompson of his character Konstantin.
Not much has changed in the realm of romance since 1895.
“(Nina) lives in this fantasy when she goes over to Konstantin’s house because they are the bohemians and artists,” Hayes said. “And she dreams of being an actress.”
Hayes said that the characters are what really brings the play to life, more so than the plot that most audiences might expect.
“It’s not very plot-driven, but it’s about presenting people and what makes them tick, and the realities of how miserable people really are,” Hayes said.
“But it’s also really funny — there is some comedy in there,” Thompson added.
Thompson is also enthusiastic about his character’s complexity.
“He’s this rich, retired actress’ son,” Thompson said. “He was brought up in a bohemian, artsy lifestyle so he knows about it, but he hates it.”
“He wants his work to be known, but he doesn’t care about money,” Thompson added. “He just wants to be known as this great writer.”
The students are eager to show Bainbridge Island that they’ve got the chops for Chekhov. There’s only one way to see if they do — grab a seat in the audience. It is an opportunity to not only see a great cast of characters unfold on stage, but also witness a piece of theater history.
“Chekhov was trying to redefine the fact that we have to laugh at our greatest sorrow,” Hume said. “That’s what this play is about — learn to laugh at your greatest sorrow.”