Click here to listen to the interview.
There has not been a better filmed adaptation of Chekov’s THE SEAGULL than the one with which Michael Mayer has gifted us. When we spoke on April 29, 2018, his insight into and passion for theater were evident, qualities that he brought to his adaptation.
I was looking forward to the approach he took finding the cinematic possibilities of this classic tale of love at cross-purposes and tunnel-vision vanity. Before we talked about that, though, I brought up the first, disastrous production of THE SEAGULL, the one that almost convinced Chekov to give up playwriting before a revival, with another director, made it a success. In light of that, I asked Mayer to talk about his sense of responsibility introducing new playwrights to the world, which brought up the subject of his own recurring director’s nightmare.
We moved on to what Chekov has to say about art in THE SEAGULL, which led to Mayer expounding on the place of art in the time of Trump; the difference between theater and cinema; why Elizabeth’s performance as Masha will be the one to which all others are compared; and the delicious irony of having an actor, Annette Benning, playing an actress who is the epitome of that deadly sin.
We finished up with how location affects storytelling, and why Stephen Karam was the choice to adapt the play for the screen.
Though set in Chekhov’s time, Mayer’s approach, along with screenwriter Stephen Karam, renders this story of love and longing feels startlingly contemporary, particularly Elizabeth Moss’ turn as Masha, who drowns here sorrows over unrequited love in both alcohol and a loveless marriage to a man who adores her. The film stars Annette Benning, Corey Stoll, Saoirse Ronan, Brian Dennehy, Jon Tenney, Mare Winningham, Billy Howle, Michael Zegan, and Glenn Fleshler.