On Friday evening, when Anna Aronson ’16 and Cameron Platt ’16 utter their first lines as Nina Zarechnaya and Irina Arkadina in Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, they will be following in the footsteps of two other Princeton women who performed the play for their senior thesis project — 10 years ago. In that production, Nikki Muller ’05 (of “The Ivy League Hustle (I Went to Princeton, Bitch!)” fame) played Nina, and Emma Worth ’05 played Arkadina.
“The Seagull,” widely considered the first of Chekhov’s four greatest plays, follows Nina, Arkadina, Arkadina’s lover Boris Trigorin and Arkadina’s son Konstantin Tréplev as they become entangled in and disentangled from each other’s lives. Arkadina, an aging actress, arrives on the play’s country estate setting for a vacation with Trigorin, who is a famous writer. Tréplev, a playwright, is putting on a play starring Nina, and conflicts arise as mother and son, writer and playwright, and seasoned diva and young novice clash.
Justin Goldberg ’02, Web & Multimedia Strategist for the Lewis Center for the Arts, reached out to Muller and Worth and asked them to reflect on their experience with the play in 2005. Muller, who first encountered “The Seagull” in her freshman-year scene study class, recalled that she was initially unimpressed with the play and its billing as a comedy.
“I could hardly sleep, I was so upset,” she said in an email. “I even wrote about it in broken German for my daily GER 102 writing homework. (‘Komödie? Quatsch!’)”
That changed as soon as the class read the play out loud. Muller not only found the play funny and timeless but also became “wholly absorbed” with Nina, whom she played in that scene study class — so much so that “Nina” is part of Muller’s email address now. When it came time to propose a senior thesis project, Muller was determined to bring the play to a larger campus audience. She convinced Worth to sign onto the project, and though in playing their respective parts as the ingénue Nina and the more mature Arkadina they broke with the types of parts they usually played, both were excited by that challenge.
In an email interview with Goldberg, Aronson and Platt noted that, they, too, had cast themselves against type in choosing to play Nina and Arkadina, respectively.
“I’m often cast in character roles,” Aronson said. “Nina is a unique challenge for me because she’s a foil to the characters I typically play. She’s earnest, optimistic and unabashedly ambitious.”
For Platt, who often plays the ingénue, the role of the aging Arkadina was also a departure from the roles she’s accustomed to: “I’m used to playing the vulnerable, the innocent and the unsure, all of which exist in Arkadina — but only under a carefully groomed and guarded exterior,” she said.
Ultimately, channeling their characters was a matter of finding commonalities with them — as it often is.
“I do relate to [Arkadina] and to those uglier aspects of human nature,” Platt said. “They’re in all of us, and it hurts to let them surface … In embodying Arkadina, I’ve sought to work out the connections between those darker impulses and the beautiful elements of her character.”
“[The play is] frighteningly relevant to our lives today,” Aronson added. “The play transcends its era because it’s so much more about the human condition than it is about circumstance.”
What Muller identified with, in 2005, was Nina’s approach to acting. Muller drew on her experiences finding solace in art after her father passed away to better understand Nina, “a young woman, fighting for her sanity by clinging to her nascent identity as an artist.”
“Of course now I can relate to Nina’s struggle as a ‘working actress’ far more than I’d care to admit,” Muller added. “[Nina’s] words resonate with me now more than ever — ‘what matters for a writer or an actor is learning how to endure, how to bear your cross and have faith.’ ” After graduating, Muller studied at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater and is now a Los Angeles-based actor and comedian.
Worth, too, noted that the part she played 10 years ago continues to resonate in her life. “As I await the birth of my own (first) child — any day now! — I am reconsidering that Arkadina feels more devoted and bound to her son than her superficial exasperation and impatience betray,” she said in an email.
Aronson and Platt look forward to performing the play in front of an audience for the first time on Friday.
“We’re taking the joy that we feel in rehearsal and translating it into performance,” Platt said. “We hope that our production won’t draw a fine line between the dark and the light forces of this play. They’re entangled.”
“The Seagull,” directed by lecturer in theater Mark Nelson ’77, will show at the Matthews Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street on Oct. 23 and 28-30 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 24 at 3 p.m.