Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chekov's The Seagull

I watched a DVD of an old PBS broadcast of Anton Chekhov's play, The Seagull. It was from 1975, back when we called public broadcasting "educational TV". It was part of a series hosted by Hal Holbrook. It had Kevin McCarthy from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The thing was pretty long. Two hours. I was surprised at how much it was like a Woody Allen movie. I've seen it said that Allen was imitating Checkhov in the movie September. They got that right. Everyone trying to be a writer or a an actor, and apparently all it took to become an actor was to run off to Moscow and declare yourself an actor. Maybe that's how it was back then. Most of the population was illiterate so there was a lot less competition.

A young Frank Langella plays Konstantin who is going to put on an experimental play he's written, performed by his girlfriend, just for a tiny audience of friends and family. Chekhov wrote the play in 1895, but he already had the idea for "Smell-o-vision". During the play-within-a-play (but presumably not in the play itself), they release the smell of sulfur which makes the playwright's mother complain which makes Konstantin throw a hissy fit and run off. 

With Lee Grant, and Olympia Dukakis among others.

I'm not a critic. I can't judge these things. But I kept wishing they'd quit acting and just say their lines.

I've seen this in other plays performed on TV or on film. The actors perform as if they're on stage. In some movies like The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, the actors would bellow out their lines as if they were trying to be heard in a large theater. In one scene, Eve Arden bellows at the top of her lungs, telling her husband not to tell her sister something. Her sister was in the next room and would have heard every word she said.

On the other hand, you recently had Carrie Underwood underplay it in The Sound of Music Live! and that didn't work out so well. So what do I know.

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