MONTREAL — What you see and hear isn’t always what you get. Sometimes it’s all about the subtext.
The Segal Centre for Performing Arts presents the Anton Chekhov classic “The Seagull” for a limited two-week run beginning Sunday. The work receives a contemporary makeover with adaptation and direction by Shaw Fest alum Peter Hinton.
“The Seagull” follows a group of artists who spend a summer break at a country estate. The bittersweet comic tale tackles everything from romantic love triangles to suicide.
“At this country estate these writers and actors meet many of the local country people who don’t live out the celebrity and fame of the artists’ dreams,” Hinton said. “So it’s a sort of collision of country and city, and the past and the future of famous artistic people and people who lived working rural lives.”
Hinton says that Chekhov’s plays, a Russian theater mainstay from the 1890s to the early 20th century, depict people who are torn between an idealized view of their past as well as an uncertain sense of their own future.
“Chekhov is so unique unto himself,” Hinton said. “He was a real pioneer of realism and naturalism. And he wanted to capture all of the ambiguities and idiosyncratic nature to life.”
The constant mix of “oppositions” provides the basis for Chekhov’s take on comedy and tragedy intertwining. And what others saw as tragedy, Chekhov often looked at from a different angle. Hinton says that often our collective darkest hours often boast a string of comic release.
“And it’s not until after something’s happened that one recognizes that escape from fate,” he said.
Hinton says this artistic trait is often debated in Chekhov’s works.
“In these plays of incredible sadness is what Chekov saw as comedies,” Hinton said. “It’s like life that way.”
To make the work current — the last Canadian translation dates to 1976 — Hinton updated the piece to modern day.
“The play wasn’t dated, just some references,” he said. “Chekhov was writing in the time where the popular or commercial plays were radical for being set in Russia.”
Hinton says that probably only a Russian audience would have known those particular references.
“And I didn’t want the references to be obscure or foreign,” Hinton said.
So this “Seagull” employs a Canadian setting, contemporary references, cars — not horses and carriages — all with the plot and characters intact.
“It’s said the two great writers for the stage are Shakespeare and Chekhov,” Hinton said. “Shakespeare for what’s on the language and Chekhov for what’s between the language. The whole school of subtext and method acting all comes from the plays of Chekhov.”
Hinton says that in the world of Chekhov, to convey a feeling that appears to be random or accidental is actually quite calculated, careful and specific.
“And I hope people can come and see themselves in it,” Hinton said. “It captures what we feel, but don’t say.”
“The Seagull” is presented Feb. 2 through 16.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is at 5170 Chemin Cote St. Catherine. Adult tickets cost $39. Discounts are available for students and seniors. Call (514) 739-7944 or visit www.segalcentre.org. Also visit www.scapegoatcarnivaletheatre.com. Take Autoroute 15 North (I-87 after the border) and continue over the Champlain Bridge. Take Exit 66, Cote St. Luc/Queen Mary, and continue on the Decarie Expressway service road for about five minutes. Turn right on Chemin Cote Ste. Catherine. The Segal Centre is two blocks on your right. VIEW THE TRAILER http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3-HE7qslVA