been a brilliant screenwriter, had he been living in an era of movies. There are so many characters, so I feel like he would have been a modern day Robert Altman-esque figure. The films he would have written….” The play is often criticized for having too many characters and a confusing breadth of plot. Karam decided to embrace this aspect of the story. “Even on stage, it’s amazing to watch the parade of characters; two exit, two enter…. It feels almost comical to say that there’s something cinematic about Chekhov’s writing, because he’s writing before the age of cinema,” he says, excitedly. “When you start to open the play up as a screenwriter, you discover that it lends itself quite well because there’s a constant dipping in and out of various lives and telling stories with what can be a simple look.” Boy, do these actresses have intense looks! “You suddenly don’t need any exposition that a play might need, where you’re trying to dole out information to the last row of the balcony. You have Mare, Elisabeth, Saoirse and Annette, who can, with one look, tell you a lot of information about how they’re feeling.” Both Mayer and Karam point to one particular moment in the film that resonates as being representative of the harmony they found in theatricalizing a movie. Between Acts II and III (spoiler alert!), Konstantin (Billy Howle) famously tries to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Though he is unsuccessful in his attempt, the moment always takes place off stage. In the film, Mayer compromises the playwright’s choice with those of his as a director; he shows blood splattering against a window, rather than focus the camera on Konstantin – even now that he has the luxury of doing so. “You don’t want to tell the audience that he’s deadwhenhe isn’t,” saysMayer, contemplating his choice. “I think that’s kind of cheating, but this way, the audience can have its own experience of it and decide, and then when you see him in the next scene, you realize he is not dead. I thought it was a nice nod to the theatrical without being so literal. I really liked the weird, random, super contemporary classical music that is played at that moment. I find it wonderfully jarring. I got excited by
the idea of really making a moment that was a little theatrical.” Karam agrees with this sentiment. “It can be overwhelming when you realize the camera can focus on doing a close-up or the camera can be moving in such a way to create a certain kind of anxiety,” he says. “I love the integration of [composer] Nico Muhly’s modern-classical voice in the film. Right before the gunshot goes off, there’s this weird sort of choral music where people are chanting!” Ironically, Konstantin ruminates on the
Karam says he finds that sentiment to be one of Konstantin’s most powerful statements. “I think it’s true of every young artist to be restless with the kind of theatre that is dominating the stage and to want to overthrow it. You can’t agree with a statement like that because who’s to say what the definition of the modern theatre is?” With the title of screenwriter now under his belt, Karam is currently working on a new play, and will see The Humans , now on tour, culminate in an L.A. production in June that
YOU START TO DREAM ABOUT THE SAME STORY THAT YOU LOVE IN IMAGES , AND ONCE YOU DO THAT, THE SCREENPLAY IN MANY WAYS CAN WRI TE I TSELF.
ANNETTE BENING IN THE SEAGULL
state of theatre with remarks that could easily be reminiscent of 2018. “As far as I am concerned, the modern theatre is trite, riddled with clichés. When [people] take cheap, vulgar plots and cheap, vulgar speeches and try to extract a moral… I run out the exit.” Mayer agrees. “You call it commercial theatre. That’s what people want,” he says, on a break from rehearsing the upcoming Broadway musical Head Over Heels , a jukebox musical featuring the songs of The Go-Gos. “Every now and then you get Angels in America, but a lot of times you get something very superficial. What’s really funny is that we’re giving Head Over Heels that fakey treatment, exactlywhat Konstantin hated, but Head Over Heels makes some interesting points and it’s fun. Plus, no one really dies in it,” he says laughing.
reunites the original cast. Funnily enough, despite Karam’s well-versed knowledge of the human condition, he feels that Chekhov has taught him one very important lesson – humans are unknowable. “His characters explore how complex, difficult, and at times, uplifting it can be to love and trust other people,” Karam ruminates. “What he explores so beautifully are the highs of that trust when it’s going well, and the absolute heartbreak and horror when you give yourself to another person, or pin your hopes on somebody who fails you.” Sounds perfectly contemporary, theatrical…and ripe for film. -- Iris Wiener is an entertainment writer and theatre critic. Visit her at IrisWiener.com or on Twitter @Iris_Wiener WESTONMAGAZINEGROUP.COM 99 *
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