Regal ‘Seagull’

An East Passy­unk Cross­ing res­id­ent is dir­ect­ing a revered Rus­si­an icon’s first full-length play. 

Photo by Maria Young

Lane Savadove has long loved cel­eb­rat­ing the mer­its of cereb­ral texts, con­tend­ing that “We should not apo­lo­gize for our brains.” Through his 26-year af­fil­i­ation with EgoPo Clas­sic Theat­er, he has looked to of­fer such power­ful pages with zero pre­ten­sion, with the en­tity’s fest­iv­al-heavy iden­tity as­sist­ing in that ven­ture. The 49-year-old has fi­nally real­ized a dec­ade-long pur­suit by helm­ing “Seagull,” a sym­bol­ist take on Ant­on Chek­hov’s “The Seagull,” the first full-length play in the be­loved scribe’s can­on. 

“He’s such a ti­tan in the field,” the East Passy­unk Cross­ing res­id­ent said of the play­wright whose 1895-penned piece is the second ele­ment of EgoPo’s Rus­si­an Mas­ters Fest­iv­al. “No mat­ter what set­backs we have, we’ll al­ways want to feel life on our skin again. Chek­hov is great at help­ing us to do that be­cause he writes so vis­cer­ally.”

As the Cen­ter City-headquartered com­pany’s artist­ic dir­ect­or, Savadove cher­ishes choos­ing which works will en­cour­age the fir­ing of syn­apses among audi­ences. With “Seagull,” which is run­ning through Feb. 19 at the Latvi­an So­ci­ety Theat­er, he has called upon many brain cells to give kudos to Chek­hov’s vast aware­ness of hu­man­ity’s depth. 

“I feel I’ve put everything that I can in­to it,” the over­seer said of the pro­ject, to which he de­voted one year of con­sid­er­a­tion to ful­fill the afore­men­tioned dec­ade’s worth of de­sires to stage it. “It’s brought me to the point where I feel I could cov­er his work for the next four years and feel in­cred­ibly blessed and con­tent to have those op­por­tun­it­ies.”

Savadove is guid­ing a South Philly-rich cast, in­clud­ing wife Melanie Ju­li­an, in what pro­mo­tion­al ma­ter­i­al calls “a mov­ing por­trait of the yearn­ing for hu­man con­nec­tion.” The tale finds the play­wright Kon­stantin, em­bod­ied by New­bold res­id­ent An­drew Car­roll, try­ing to en­hance theat­er’s pos­sib­il­it­ies by in­vent­ing a form and style quite un­like the tone found in tra­di­tion­al stage-based of­fer­ings. The writer’s re­li­ance on sym­bol­ism, which works to ad­dress “the tec­ton­ic plates of our psych­ic lives, us­ing dream­like, po­et­ic lan­guage and move­ment to con­vey of­ten ex­ist­en­tial themes, as op­posed to dir­ect nar­rat­ive,” en­dowed Savadove with the idea to mesh real­it­ies, as his in­ter­pret­a­tion’s pat­rons be­come the audi­ence in Kon­stantin’s brainchild. That de­cision brings to the fore con­sid­er­a­tions of me­lo­drama, Nat­ur­al­ism, and Ex­pres­sion­ism and has helped the dir­ect­or to grow more fer­vently at­tached to Chek­hov’s out­put. 

“It was def­in­itely among my dream plays,” Savadove said of “The Seagull,” which, he ad­ded, of­fers an amaz­ing in­tro­duc­tion in­to the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar play­wright’s abil­ity to in­cite a deep­er ex­per­i­ence of theat­er. “It’s an es­sen­tial work in think­ing about how we ap­proach and ap­pre­ci­ate art and also how we set out to make it. It sets the wheels turn­ing and guar­an­tees you a great men­tal workout.”

In that re­spect and through EgoPo’s train­ing re­gi­men that in­stills in the per­formers ro­bust vo­cal and phys­ic­al styles of act­ing, “Seagull” stands as a per­fect ad­vert­ise­ment for the mem­bers’ al­le­gi­ance to the be­lief that great­er emo­tion­al truth will be­come evid­ent cour­tesy of listen­ing to the body and fol­low­ing its im­pulses. That sat­is­fac­tion through sens­ory aware­ness cer­tainly gives cre­dence to Savadove’s point about ex­haust­ing every means to cap­ture the es­sence of the plot. 

“There’s still so much fun to have even if a text calls for you to be mind­ful of every com­pon­ent,” he said. “In fact, I’d ar­gue that re­spons­ib­il­ity makes it more en­joy­able, and I’m in awe be­cause I’m among people who like­wise want to give everything to get­ting at the heart of how art sus­tains us.”

The New Hope nat­ive has pro­moted the need for bold, dir­ect­or-driv­en work in Phil­adelphia since his 2005 ar­rival here. Forced to flee from New Or­leans, where he had hoped for EgoPo to be­come a long-ten­ured con­trib­ut­or to the city’s bur­geon­ing theat­er scene, in the af­ter­math of Hur­ricane Kat­rina, he ar­rived want­ing to evolve in his pas­sion for pro­mot­ing theat­er as an art form and has come to cred­it the met­ro­pol­is for its cre­at­ive fluid­ity and emo­tion­al in­teg­rity. 

“It can be easy to ac­cept the es­tim­a­tion that we’re not a place that’s burst­ing with deep thinkers be­cause so many out­siders see us strictly as in­hab­it­ants of a blue col­lar city,” the Haver­ford Col­lege and Columbia Uni­versity, School of the Arts alum­nus said. “And, of course, that’s com­plete non­sense. It’s been my ex­per­i­ence that there’s plenty of brain power gen­er­ated on a daily basis, and I think that’s par­tic­u­larly evid­ent when you look at theat­er com­pan­ies and what they’re col­lect­ively try­ing to con­vey to us, namely, that it’s per­fectly ac­cept­able to seek an­swers and ap­ply your find­ings for the good of so many.” 

EgoPo, whose name de­rives from the French for “The Phys­ic­al Self,” has en­abled Savadove to edu­cate the masses across the coun­try and abroad, with In­done­sia and Croa­tia as in­ter­na­tion­al re­cip­i­ents of its quest to re­vital­ize the great clas­sics of theat­er and lit­er­at­ure. Those stops have in­tens­i­fied what the sev­en-year South Philly res­id­ent deems the com­pany’s rich en­tre­pren­eur­i­al iden­tity and has coupled, since the ’07-’08 sea­son when he and his peers staged a trio of homages to Ten­ness­ee Wil­li­ams, with fest­iv­al pieces to re­in­force how in­nov­at­ive and pro­voc­at­ive their line of work can be. Their as­pir­a­tions have yiel­ded lengthy dis­cus­sions on what will com­prise their slate, with this sea­son’s se­lec­tions, due to our polit­ic­al cli­mate in the wake of last year’s gen­er­al elec­tions, prov­ing quite apt. 

“We like to re­flect on the zeit­geist to lead us to an­swers on what we’re go­ing to do, and we’re usu­ally dead right when de­term­in­ing what smells like it’s needed to re­ceive treat­ment,” Savadove said. “We’re hear­ing so much these days about Rus­sia with re­spect to gov­ern­ment mat­ters, but when you move bey­ond that, it’s un­deni­able how amaz­ingly in­flu­en­tial its cre­at­ive prac­ti­tion­ers have been.”

In­deed, the “Seagull” re­lease tabs the European land “in many ways, our closest cul­tur­al sib­ling.” Savadove et al have re­lied on that re­la­tion to present a fall trib­ute to Fy­odor Dostoyevsky and the cur­rent re­gard to Chek­hov and will cap their ven­er­a­tion of vaunted writers in the spring through “Anna,” a nod to Leo Tol­stoy’s “Anna Karen­ina.” As the artist­ic dir­ect­or and his con­tem­por­ar­ies con­sider the fu­ture of EgoPo, with Savadove hav­ing proudly spoken of rising sub­scrip­tion tal­lies, he can also take de­light in his full pro­fess­or of theat­er des­ig­na­tion at Row­an Uni­versity, whose vig­or­ous phys­ic­al train­ing pro­gram could cer­tainly trans­form present stu­dents in­to fu­ture hires. 

“We’re look­ing to grow by con­tinu­ing to tour and simply be­ing dar­ing,” Savadove said. “You have to be all in if you’re try­ing to make some ripples.” 


Play­ing through Feb. 19 at
The Latvi­an So­ci­ety Theat­er, 
531 N. Sev­enth St. 
Tick­ets: $25-$32


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