The Seagull was based on an event in Anton Chekhov’s life. One afternoon, while he was taking a walk with his friend, Ilya Levitan, the landscape painter, he saw Levitan shoot a seagull that was flying over the river. Later, the moody painter, feeling scorned by the woman he loved, threw the dead seagull at her feet and threatened to kill himself. The play Chekhov made from this incident is perhaps the most elaborate and realistic analysis of the life of the artist ever presented in dramatic form; but all that almost any other dramatist would have selected as the material for his play takes place in Moscow between the third and fourth acts. What the audience sees is the effect of what took place, and in this lies the essence of what Chekhov has contributed to the art of the theater.
The first production of The Seagull on October 17, 1896, was a total disaster. The critics dismissed it as inept and even absurd, and Chekhov, who fled the theater before the final curtain, accepted their verdict. One audience member, critic-playwright Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, did not agree and determined to mount a second production of the play. Danchenko, at that time organizing the Moscow Art Theatre with Constantine Stanislavski, convinced his partner that the new Chekhov play had great potential and then he talked the playwright into allowing The Seagull a second chance. Their production of the play in 1898 was an enormous artistic,...
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