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Building A Broken Man

My role in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, Sorin, is the older brother of Irina, a middle- aged actress who is one of the main characters in the play. When we meet him in the first act, he is recently retired, already dependent on a walking stick or cane to get around, and, in general, dissatisfied with what he has done with his life and where he has ended up. Over the course of the play Sorin’s physical condition declines, to the point of being confined to a wheelchair in the last scenes of the work. The mental and psychological decline is less obvious, but, the playwright makes clear, present.

A primary challenge for an actor attempting the role of Sorin is to create someone onstage who is in a state of physical weakness yet retain the necessary energy and spirit to convince the audience that the character is authentic and worthy of care. I struggle with finding the moments where the bodily decline can be evident even as the character seeks to deny that decline by what he says and attempts to do.

Some of the difficulty is eased by Chekhov’s ability to write characters that express our very human desire to be different from who we are, lament our inability to recapture or go back to our youth, and struggle against impending death. While Sorin is, in some ways, a center of relative stability in the play and a source of humor in what is advertised as a comedy, he also provides the author with a character who uses laughter to protect himself from the realities of his life. Sorin comments on the sometimes absurd comedy of the human condition and, in laughing at his own life, invites the audience to recognize and appreciate the “futile hope” of intimacy with another human being.

Life is tragic, but can be redeemed if we can laugh.

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