Great 19th-century Russian writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov didn’t have the chance to reflect on shopping at Trader Joe’s.
But in Gab Reisman’s adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” which opens The NOLA Project’s season this week, it’s a dreadful experience — at least it is at a New York Trader Joe’s.
In her version of the comedy, titled “the seagull, or how to eat it,” Nina is a native of Mandeville. She’s back home talking to neighbors after taking a break from NYU and a flawed romantic liaison.
“I was in the Trader Joe’s on 14th, and you know how it’s always so busy?” Nina ask. “OK, you don’t, but it’s always super busy so the store is just a line. So you get in line as soon as you walk in the door, and you do all your shopping standing in this checkout line.”
Nina passes out in the store, in part because she refused to give up on the time she already spent in line.
In Chekhov, the character is talking more about a feeling of being unfulfilled after performing at what she claims was every theater in Russia.
Instead of a remote home in the Russian countryside, Reisman set her work at a home on the lakefront cut off by a state park from downtown Mandeville. Actually, it’s a camp or summer home for Irene, a successful actress who spends most of every time in New York. Every last time Connie is stuck at the home, desperately trying to get his own artistic career on track. He’s also attracted to Nina, but she has her eyes on someone else.
Mandi has an unreciprocated interest in Connie, while Simon has an unreciprocated interest in Mandi. For many characters, constantly longing for seemingly unattainable things is a condition of life.
“The Seagull” is one of Chekhov’s better-known works, and it’s full of people who are doing well in their lives but are stuck on frustration. Professional success never seems to satisfy the many characters hung up on people who don’t return their affections. Reisman stuck close to the original script, but she didn’t see a play about failure. Instead, she saw a story about art making with plenty of humor stemming from selfish people who don’t really listen to each other.
“I never knew it was funny until I read it,” Reisman says. “I thought all Chekhov was tragedy and about depressed people. There was space to put myself in it, but there were things that were really delightful. It’s one of the few scripts that I would laugh while I was writing it.”
Also slightly different from Chekhov’s characters are some sexual orientations. Many of Reisman’s characters are queer.
“Chekhov’s philandering 60-year-old rich man doctor is the same as my 60-year-old butch lesbian rich Doc,” she says. “There’s nothing different about the characters except the anatomy. They’re both just as selfish.”
One thing that is different is the outdoor performance. The NOLA Project is performing the show in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Reisman planned on that, and the production is making use of 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’s expansion. 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” runs Oct. 12-20. Tickets are $20-$55 and are available via nolaproject.com, along with a food truck schedule and other information.
Most of the songs express desire and joy and are sexually candid, with plenty of double entendres.