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Washington Post

The Nest of Times: Making 'Seagull' Fly Anew
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 21, 2009

"When I write a play I feel uncomfortable, as if somebody is poking me in the neck,"  Anton Chekhov once confessed. Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth and his colleagues, too, have suffered twinges -- philosophical ones -- while crafting "The Seagull on 16th Street," a risky,  shofar-and-R.E.M.-inflected spin on  Chekhov's 1896 classic.

"I found myself, with my staff, talking -- and sometimes arguing -- about, 'Can we do this play? Should we do this play? Are we allowed to do this play?' " Roth recalled last month, in an interview in his tiny 16th Street office.

His team resolved that particular bout of soul-searching, which reflected a seeming disconnect between Theater J's mandate -- to explore the Jewish cultural heritage -- and Chekhov's oeuvre. The upshot is the show that officially opens tonight, under John Vreeke's direction. Adapted by Roth, "Seagull on 16th" veers from Chekhov's script, with tweaked lines, new scenes and re-imagined character identities.


From former Washington Post Chief Critic Lloyd Rose

"During my decade as the theatre critic of The Washington Post, I spent a lot of time wondering, as I sat through yet one more, dove-grey, emotionally exquisite production of "The Cherry Orchard" or "The Three Sisters", Why is there all this piety about Chekhov? Shakespeare has been subjected to (and survived) being transported to Bosnia or set in Elsinore Corporation. This may or may not be desirable, but at least no one tiptoes up to him as if everyone involved were i n church. Chekhov flattens his admirers. They tend to act as if unworthy of his subtle artistry. His texts are sacred.
So I was pleased and heartened to see Ari Roth’s adaptation of "The Seagull" with its modest but moving introduction of religion into the soul-weary and soul-destroying world of Arkadina and her family, friends and servants. "Should" you take these famous characters and make them Jewish, something that is not only alien to the original play but alien to history itself, which relegated Russian Jewry to shetls and ghettos, not dachas? There’s no rule-book, and when, amazingly, yet another haunted layer is added to this vibrantly unhappy play, I consider the modification all to the good. It’s a bold move carried out here with the utmost respect, even delicacy, though the production itself is welcomely robust and funny and contains some of the freshest acting in a Chekhov play I’ve seen in years. "
Lloyd Rose

AROUND TOWN on WETA Discussion

Washington City Paper

Reviewed: The Seagull on 16th Street Chekhov brings the funny at Theater J.
By Glen Weldon
Posted: June 24, 2009

Aplomb de Famille: Theater J stages Chekhov domesticity at its most lively.
As much as the name Anton Chekhov conjures images of bored, po-faced Russians dithering over samovars and parting the air with long, wet sighs, the guy knew how to do funny, and 2009 is giving D.C. audiences a couple chances to see it. In January, the Washington Shakespeare Company mounted a downright slapstick Cherry Orchard with intriguing, if mixed, results. Now Chekhov’s Seagull—the consumptive Cossack’s first and most meticulous examination of despair and distraction among the Russian gentry—is getting fed through the comedy filter at Theater J.  CONTINUE READING

Metro Weekly

Russian Jewry
Theater J's Ari Roth has ever-so-slightly tweaked Chekhov's 'The Seagull' to make it explicitly, inherently Jewish

by Doug Rule 
Published on July 2, 2009


Oy vey! The Yiddish construction is fun to use and say in English, even though it expresses dismay or exasperation. Yet, just the sound of it adds some levity to the moment.
Similarly, celebrated Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote plays intended to straddle the divide between the tragic and the comic -- working to draw the funny out of the sad.
And to think he wasn't Jewish.

The Sentinel

The Seagull explores artistic dreams and generational conflicts

Published on: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

By David Cannon, Sentinel Arts Critic

Poor Anton Chekhov. Chekhov became famous when top Russian directors staged his plays but the writer never totally liked the productions. You see, Chekov thought of his plays as comedies while directors kept turning them into intimate dramas. While hardly Neil Simon, Chekhov is also not the dreary realist that so many directors turn him into.

Finding the humor in Chekhov is one of the many things that make the current production of The Seagull down at Theater J so interesting. First of all, there is nothing particularly Jewish about the script and Theater J is better known for modern plays, not works from the end of the 19th century. This quite successful Seagull is something of a breakthrough for the group, while providing an interesting new lens on this familiar work. CONTINUE READING

Potomac Stages

Ari Roth's Unique adaptation for those immersed in Chekhov’s world of self-indulgent beings
Running time 2:20 – one intermission
Reviewed June 27 by David Siegel 

This is an appealing work for those immersed in the esteemed Anton Chekhov’s oeuvre and who want to see a contemporary world premiere adaptation with a rather unique twist. This is no half-hearted variation of costume changes and frothy accents. This The Seagull is a gutsy, distinctive turn that brings forth issues of faith that Ari Roth found present in Chekhov’s century old original. In his adaptation, Roth superimposes matters regarding the Jewish faith and the struggles of prominent characters to either reconnect with their former religion or continue on their path to assimilation and integration into society. This newly-minted theme is overlaid on Chekhov’s bracing work regarding artistic creativity as well as the consequences of mismatches of love.  CONTINUE READING


The Seagull On 16th Street: One Theme Too Many
Written by DCist contributor Monica Shores

It seems that Theater J’s artistic director Ari Roth, who adapted Chekov's classic The Seagull for the company, knows his decision to infuse the play with a Jewish crisis of faith may be a hard sell. Much of the printed program of The Seagull On 16th Street is devoted to justifying this choice, which stemmed from a need to square the play’s solidly non-Jewish content with a theater company whose mission is to explore “Jewish cultural legacy.” His logic is that The Seagull already touches on issues of faith (whether it be in the value of one’s artistic work, talent, or identity), so there's no harm in throwing religious faith onto the pile.   CONTINUE READING

Washington Jewish Weekly

Making Chekhov Jewish
by Lisa Traiger , Arts Correspondent

The beauty embedded in the work of early modernist Russian playwright Anton Chekhov rests in its elasticity. There are the period plays, set in Moscow country dachas, the articulate women corseted, the men dapper and talkative in bowlers and suspenders. But Chekhov was, and remains, more than a century after his early death at age 44, a man for all seasons and, so it seems, all eras. Chekhov, of course, was not a Jew, but as a member of the Russian intelligentsia living at the end of the 19th century, he was familiar with Jews. For a short while, Chekhov was even engaged to a Jewish woman. But his plays are not intrinsically Jewish.  CONTINUE READING

We Love DC Blog

We Love Arts: The Seagull on 16th Street
By Jenn Larsen, 1:00 pm June 23rd, 2009 
Most people don’t associate Chekhov with comedy. We think Russia in all caps, passion with a punch, alcoholics, suicides, depressives. And yes, there’s a lot of that. Except it can all be pretty hysterical stuff, as Theater J’s adaptation of “The Seagull” proves. It’s a thin line between tragedy and comedy, and Chekhov certainly meant us to see the absurdity in our own hyperbolic neuroses. Or put more simply - when a guy presents a dead seagull to his girlfriend, it’s ok to laugh. CONTINUE READING

City Shifting Blog

Chekhov meets Theater J
The Seagull on 16th Street
22nd June 2009
written by Emily 
It’s tough to critique an adaptation when you haven’t seen the original, so I won’t try. (Though scrolling over the Seagull on Google Books, I’m noticing how closely this production adhered to the original script). As a work of its own, P and I thoroughly enjoyed The Seagull on 16th Street: it’s funny (yet tragic—appropriately Chekhov), full of well-weaved themes, and impressively acted. There were few moments that my mind drifted, a compliment to the artistic director, considering the play is almost 150 minutes long. CONTINUE READING