But Downs’ smart, comical script, which has been given a thoroughly entertaining staging by director Thomas Joyner, does raise an interesting question: How much can you assume that an audience knows?
Seagulls in a Cherry Tree, after all, is a loving parody of at least three of Anton Chekhov’s classic plays: The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard. And of the audience who saw the show’s first performance at PlayFest, all but one of us were at least a little familiar with Chekhov’s work.
That didn’t keep that one young man in the audience who had never seen a Chekhov play from enjoying the heck out of it, or so he said. And it didn’t keep the folks who don’t know every Chekhovian reference from understanding what was going on, anymore than it kept audiences from understanding that the early Woody Allen was lampooning Bergman in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or Tolstoy in Love and Death.
It’s funny enough to think of an adaptation of The Cherry Orchard for Walt Disney Prductions, which is what the show’s inept screenwriter-hero is trying to produce. There’s an estate that’s going down the tubes, a would-be actress named Nina, an intoxicated podiatrist named Dr. Anton, a philosophizing deadbeat and a bumbler named Bob, whom the philosopher calls “one potato short of a pancake.”
Sure enough, they’re all ensconced somewhere near Moscow, Idaho, and one character gets to deliver the memorables lines: “Writers are like geese. They eventually forget what they’re honking about.”
Seagulls‘ ending has changed since its reading at PlayFest last year, and at the talkback the playwright wondered aloud whether he had done the right thing.
Should the show stay true to Chekhov and end on a downbeat note? Or should he hold on to the new gag ending, which sends the audience cackling out into the night?
I say go for the gag. By that time your audience understands that these folks lead lives of quiet desperation. The thing is, their quiet desperation is a stitch.