Great 19th century Russian writers like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anton Chekhov didn’t have a chance to think about shopping at Trader Joe’s.
But in Gab Reisman’s adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” which opens the season of The NOLA Project this week, it’s a harrowing experience — at least it’s at a New York Trader Joe’s.
In her version of the comedy, titled “The seagull, or how to eat it”, Nina is from Mandeville. She’s back home talking to neighbors after taking a break from NYU and a faulty romance.
“I was at Trader Joe’s on the 14th, and you know how busy it always is?” Nina asks. “OK you don’t but it’s always busy so the store is just a queue. So you get in line as soon as you walk in the door and you do all your shopping standing up in this queue.
Nina passes out in the store, partly because she refused to give up the time she already spent online.
In Chekhov, the character speaks more of a feeling of dissatisfaction after performing in what she claims are all theaters in Russia.
Instead of a remote home in the Russian countryside, Reisman set up his work in a lakeside home cut off by a state park from downtown Mandeville. In fact, it’s a summer camp or residence for Irene, a successful actress who spends most of her time in New York. Her son Connie is stuck at home, desperately trying to put his own artistic career on track. He is also attracted to Nina, but she has her sights set on someone else.
Mandi has an unrequited interest in Connie, while Simon has an unrequited interest in Mandi. For many characters, constantly yearning for seemingly unattainable things is a condition of life.
“The Seagull” is one of Chekhov’s best-known works, and it’s full of people who are doing well in their lives but are stuck in frustration. Career success never seems to satisfy the many characters clinging to people who don’t return their affections. Reisman stuck close to the original script, but she didn’t see a play on failure. Instead, she saw a story about making art with lots of humor from selfish people who don’t really listen to themselves.
“I never knew it was funny until I read it,” Reisman says. “I thought the whole Chekhov was a tragedy and was about depressed people. There was room for me to fit in, but there were some really delicious things. It’s one of the few scripts that I laughed at while I was writing it.
Some sexual orientations are also slightly different from Chekhov’s characters. Many of Reisman’s characters are queer.
“Chekhov’s 60-year-old rich doctor is the same as my 60-year-old rich lesbian doctor,” she says. “There’s nothing different about the characters except the anatomy. They’re both equally selfish.
One thing that is different is outdoor performance. The NOLA Project presents the show in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Reisman had anticipated this, and the production uses wireless microphones to accommodate scenes in which characters walk along the garden lagoon as if it were the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Seating is in the tiered amphitheater space in the Besthoff Garden Extension. There will be a food truck and a bar at each production.
Reisman wanted to include a boat in the production, but it’s Chekhov, and people don’t always get what they want.
“The seagull, or how to eat it” takes place from October 12 to 20. Tickets cost between $20 and $55 and are available through nolaproject.com, along with a food truck schedule and other information.
Most of the songs express desire and joy and are sexually frank, with lots of double meanings.