Unrequited love, rampant egos and celebrity worship, all among mismatched, conflicted people — must be reality TV, right?
Nope, it's The Seagull and though it's more than a century old, Anton Chekhov's play remains relevant today. It revolves around a struggling playwright who seeks approval from his diva mother and falls in love with the wrong woman, in both instances showing us the folly of the ways we navigate relationships.
"You can look at these people and they're all very fresh and we recognize them," says TheatreWorks artistic director Murray Ross. "They could live down the street, which is really remarkable since this is 1900s Russia."
Ross considers Chekhov second only to Shakespeare in terms of playwriting prowess. And yet, he adds, producers and audiences tend to be intimidated by the Russian, whose work is damned as "dark and slow and boring." His plays, which include The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya, are produced relatively infrequently in this country.
When they are, however, actors leap at the chance to perform in them. Hopefuls flocked to the audition, Ross says, allowing him to pick the cream of Colorado performers.
"This is a play that actors love and actors get," Ross says. "It gives them so much to work with and so much to find."
TheatreWorks veteran Matthew Mueller is making his first foray into Chekhov. He plays the novelist Trigorin, who is involved with Irina, an aging actress.
"It's great to work on Chekhov, because it's so real," he says. "The awkwardness is there, in what people are doing versus what they're actually saying."
Much of the action takes place off-stage and between acts, typical of Chekhov. People fall in and out of love, and layers of feeling are peeled away and swept aside. The titular bird, symbolizing lost innocence and trampled hopes, arrives dead on the stage.
Chekhov conceived The Seagull as a comedy, but both Ross and Mueller see it as a blend of the pathos and idiocy so prevalent in life.
"You're aware, all the time, that people are in pain and the actors have to make you feel that pain," Ross says. "And at the same time, they just seem painfully silly."