The Pioneer Place will be presenting “The Seagull” by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov to audiences starting March 24. The four act comedy, directed by Michael Kelley, is one of Chekhov’s most celebrated works. It was first produced in 1896 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Chekhov classifies it as a comedy, but the script has very tragic elements in it. The play, which philosophizes about the nature of art, belongs to a genre of theater called Naturalism. Naturalism attempts to emulate real life in a deterministic manner as the characters are exposed to forces outside of their control.
The story revolves around four protagonists, who are all artists, and their romantic and artistic engagements. The play also uses the metafictional “play-within-a-play” motif to philosophize about the nature of drama, and, more broadly, of art in general.
Despite the limited amount of backstage space, set designer Justin Hooper says he is confident his crew will be able to wow audiences. Among the many unique aspects of the stage, Hooper will use a colorful patchwork of lit glass plates to imitate a lake.
Michael Kelley, artistic director of Pioneer Place Theater on Fifth, says he’s thrilled to be giving Saint Cloud its first production of a play by Chekhov. Kelley also directed Pioneer Place’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Of the challenges of directing a play by Chekhov, Kelley said, “There’s a lot of elements of symbolism [in The Seagull] that [are] typically not used in theater.”
That’s not to say that Kelley hasn’t enjoyed working on the production.
“As a director, I’m much more fond of the process of doing theater, not necessarily the product, but as an artistic director, I’m all about the product, and what I’m giving to my audience.”
Kelley has been advocating for a more classically-based theater agenda at Pioneer Place.
This time, though, plays by Shakespeare or the Greek tragedians were disregarded in favor of a play by Chekhov because St. Cloud has never had a professional production of a play by Chekhov, though he is considered one of the greatest playwrights of Russian literature.
The Seagull will play from March 24 through April 10 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30, and on Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $17.50 for students and $20.50 for adults.
“I think it’s really well done. The cast is fantastic. There’s not a weak actor among them,” Hooper said.
A production like this is a rarity in Saint Cloud. Only a few times in recent memory have the theaters of St. Cloud presented audiences to such a classic, nor do they often take such a large undertaking as a play by the Russian literary giant Chekhov.
For audiences who would wish to see non-contemporary drama, but don’t want the highly-embellished, romantic tone of much classical and renaissance drama, the script of “The Seagull” offers a realistic, melodramatic perspective on the defects and perfections of humanity.
“I think this play really can connect to everyone. Because it’s naturalistic, we see characters very much like ourselves,” Kelley said.