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Release: Feb. 8, 2002

(NOTE TO EDITORS: You can reach director/translator Carol MacVey at the UI department of theatre arts, 319-335-2700, or by e-mail at < >.)

Director MacVey's detective work on Chekhov's 'comedy' shapes production of 'The Seagull'

University of Iowa department of theatre arts faculty member Carol MacVey will direct her new translation of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull," opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building. Other performances on the University Theatres Mainstage series, will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 22, 23 and 28, and March 1 and 2; and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 24 and March 3.

"The Seagull" is a seminal work of modern theater, a complex tale of love, theater, art and creativity, in which each character is a mixture of wisdom and foolishness. Chekhov also described the play -- which ends in a suicide -- as a comedy, a puzzling and neglected aspect that MacVey pursued in her translation and production.

Veering away from the polemical tradition of Tolstoy and Pushkin, Chekhov's new vision of literature was devoid of lessons and preaching; instead he sought to depict "life as it is." "In life people do not shoot themselves, or hang themselves, or fall in love, or deliver themselves of clever sayings every minute," he wrote. "They spend most of their time eating, drinking, or running after women or men, or talking nonsense. It is therefore necessary that this should be shown on the stage."

Tracking Chekhov's description of "The Seagull" as "comedy" took MacVey all the way to Russia. "When director and actor Andre Gregory -- who starred, as himself, with Wallace Shawn in the film 'My Dinner with Andre' -- was visiting UI a few years back, I had my own 'Dinner with Andre' and we talked mostly about Chekhov," she recalls. "He had finished filming 'Vanya on 42nd Street' and I had acted in a production of 'Uncle Vanya.' As we talked about things Chekovian, I couldn't resist asking him why he thought Chekhov had called 'The Seagull' a comedy.

"He told me a story: A few years back the Moscow Art Theatre had visited New York and an old actor told him that a legend existed around the ending of 'The Seagull': The last line as it now exists, reads: 'Get Irina away from here. Konstantine has just shot himself.' But apparently it once was written as 'Get Irina away from here. Konstantine has just shot himself again.' This, of course, would imply that like his first attempt, he had failed, and this was perhaps merely another cri de coeur."

MacVey explains that the comedy then would arise out of the repetition of the endless cycles of absurd machinations we go through to bring happiness and equilibrium into our lives -- much in the style of "Waiting for Godot" and other plays by Samuel Beckett.

"Armed with this story I set off to Russia to find the proverbial needle in the haystack; I wanted to find out if the original ending had indeed been changed," MacVey says. "Everyone I asked -- directors, actors, dramaturgs, designers, critics, literary agents -- had a different response to the Gregory story, ranging from 'that would be a revolutionary discovery!' to 'It would not make a bit of difference.'

"Then I found out that the Russians were shocked to learn that we might even entertain the notion that Trepley had lived after his second attempt. All English translations read the last line as '......Konstantine has just shot himself.' That word 'shot' leaves room for error: As in the first half of the play, he might have survived the attempt. But in Russian the word leaves no room for doubt: It means 'shot himself dead.'"

With the issue unresolved through the Gregory story, MacVey brought up the question again in the first production meeting for the current production. "One answer we entertained came from a comment Dare Clubb, our dramaturg: Perhaps Chekhov was trying to teach us something about the definition of comedy. After all, isn't the play Treplev's is writing about new forms, and wasn't 'The Seagull' itself revolutionary in its structure and attempt to represent life as it is? Wasn't Chekhov himself trying to find new forms? Perhaps he was asking us to think that comedy might have a larger definition, that it can embrace suicide as well, since it too is part of the larger human comedy?"

MacVey's "Seagull" production is informed by her question, and the adventure of pursuing the possible answer. The adventure triggered by Gregory's story has also expanded MacVey's horizon's -- or perhaps the dimensions of her own "human comedy" -- in unanticipated ways.

"While in Russia, my highlight was being invited for a picnic lunch in Chekhov's cherry orchard at Melikhovo, which is where Chekhov lived when he wrote 'The Seagull,'" she recounts. "I will return in May to direct a piece there, jointly produced by the International Chekhov Fund. Two actors from UI will rehearse 'The Nina Variations,' the Steven Dietz play inspired by Chekhov, and two Russian actors will do the same with Victor Goultchenko, director of the International Chekhov Fund.

"We'll get together in Moscow to blend in our scenes and then we'll perform at Melikhovo, then in Moscow and finally in St. Petersburg at the Alexandrinsky Theatre , which is where 'The Seagull' premiered in 1896. Plans are in progress to have them come to UI in 2003."

Meanwhile, MacVey's UI production of "The Seagull" features contributions by Dan Nemteanu, set designer; Renee Bell, Edward Matthew Walter, associate set designers; Cynda Galikin, costume designer; Kelly PerkinsSmith, lighting designer; Chad Larabee, assistant director; Dominic Chacon, sound designer; Dare Clubb, Nancy Hoffman, dramaturges; and Jennifer Croft, translation consultant

And the final line? Tickets for "The Seagull" -- $16 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and youth) -- are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be on sale one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

"The Seagull" is the first of three Mainstage production in the UI spring semester, which means that a three-play package discount is still available to University Theatres ticketbuyers. The other plays are the world premiere of J.e. Franklin's "Wonderchild," April 4-14; and "The Making of Americans: Part I," by Gertrude Stein, in collaboration with the Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:< >.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <>.

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