A Seagull in the Delta, is a modern retelling of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. Like Chekhov’s classic play, it is a story of people searching for love and acceptance, usually from the wrong people, in a world divided by class issues. Pastoral Russia in the turbulent years before the Russian Revolution is replaced by rural Mississippi in 1968, against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement.
Young Conn is an idealist and an aspiring playwright and filmmaker, on a quest to become a true artist with his own voice. He is the son of a famous movie star, exiled to his uncle’s crumbling plantation because he is a constant reminder that his mother is older than she pretends. Conn finds her life irrelevant and her work inconsequential, while at the same time he desperately needs her love and approval.
Conn loves Nina, the beautiful young girl with an abusive step-father who lives across the lake. He has written his first play to star her. But Nina finds his writing mystifying and incomprehensible. She much prefers the writing of best-selling novelist Trey Gordon, who happens to be the younger lover of Conn’s mother, Irene Kane.
Dr. Dorn is the doctor who treats Conn’s invalid uncle, Ted, who was left a parapalegic after the Korean War. Dorn grew up with Ted and was a little in love with the teenage Irene. He often comes to visit them in the country, and sometimes spends the weekends. He has been carrying on a secret liaison for years with a negro nurse, Paula, who is Ted’s live-in caretaker. Their daughter, Marsha, looks up to him as a mentor, but does not know he is her father.
Marsha is a typical teenager, who is becoming politically aware. She is also painfully aware that her obsessive love for Conn is not only not returned, but socially forbidden.
In flight from the expense of keeping up appearances in Hollywood, and the possible disaster of her last film, Irene descends on her childhood home, with her novelist lover in tow. Old flames are fanned, current relationships are strained, new romance blooms, and the public face of liberalism is stripped away to expose the deeply ingrained prejudice that threatens all their possible happiness.
Constantine (Conn) – (20-25) He is a playwright, looking for his own voice. He sees himself as an artist, but he is insecure. His mother, Irene, is a second tier movie star. He sees her work as mediocre and not artistic. He lives in rural Mississippi with his crippled uncle on the plantation that was his mother’s childhood home, and has no real father figure. He is also madly in love with Nina. He competes with Trey, for his mother’s attention, and later for Nina’s love. Like most young people, he is searching for his own identity, but he desperately needs his mother’s love and her validation, in spite of the fact that he is condescending towards her. He is prone to highly dramatic gestures, like attempted suicide. At the end of the play, he is a Viet Nam veteran and disappointed in life and love, but still clinging to the possibility Nina represents.
Nina – (18-23) Her father is dead and her mother has remarried a man who is emotionally abusive to her. She is pretty and talented at the beginning of the play. She cares for Conn but has little understanding or patience with artistic pretentions. She aspires to be a successful actress not an artiste. She is naïve and uncertain, easily impressed by Irene and Trey. She is dazzled by their attention and fancies herself tragically in love with someone far above her. She is easily seduced by Trey. In the last act she is a completely different person, worn down by life and disappointment.
Marsha – (16-21) Marsha is the bi-racial daughter of Paula and Dr Dorn (though she does not know he is her father). She sees herself as a tragic figure “in mourning for my life” as she says in the first lines. She is idealistic and idealizes Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. She has been the object of racial prejudice and although she worships Conn, she has the intelligence to recognize that in spite of her intelligence and devotion, his returning her love is a very remote possibility. The assassinations of her heroes and her own experiences radicalize her politically, and when we meet her again at the end of the play she is a member of the radical Black Panthers, on the run from the law.
Irene Kane – (41-46) Beautiful, successful, a glittering movie star. She is however, insecure about her success, her rank in Hollywood hierarchy, her love life, and most of all about financial security. She grew up in rural Mississippi, with a small town sense of morality. But as a movie star, she sees herself as above the rules, yet in constant fear of public scorn and a loss of popularity. She has had a series of serious relationships over her career, but has avoided the highly public marriage and divorce cycles to which her rivals (like Liz Taylor) are susceptible. She keeps Conn in Mississippi because he is a constant reminder that she is no longer as young as she looks. Trey is her latest lover, but he is younger and she is very insecure about his falling out of love with her.
Trey Gordon – (34-39) He is a successful writer of popular fiction, both books and short stories. He also writes occasional articles and essays. He is an observer in life, a downside of being a writer. He is charming, intelligent, articulate, but he is not forceful or a leader. He floats through life, detached and seemingly charmed, successful, but never truly passionate or driven by anything. He is with Irene because she wants him to be and he finds it too much trouble to break the ties. He is mesmerized by Nina’s youth and passion and without scruple or remorse destroys it.
Dr. Dorn – (47 to 52) He came to Mississippi as a young doctor and has a little crush on the youthful Irene before she left to become a movie star. He still has a crush on her. But whatever youth and vigor she found charming years ago has been worn down and he is old before his time. He works too hard and drinks too much. In addition to his practice and his hospital duties, he takes a personal interest in the care of Irene’s brother Ted. He often visits the plantation, and usually stays overnight and sometimes for the weekend. He has been having a long-time affair with Paula, the black nurse who cares for Ted. A long-time liberal in his ideals, he loves Paula, in his own way. But his passivity makes it impossible for him to fight the system that makes it impossible for them to openly live together.
Paula – (36-41) Paula is a highly professional black nurse. She is able to put up with Ted’s tantrums and do her job efficiently and with compassion. What she cannot stand is the way Irene pretends to be so broad-minded, and yet treats her like a servant. Paula lives at the plantation with her daughter, and is deeply in love with Dr. Dorn. She merely exists from one visit to the next, but she finds it increasingly difficult to accept his refusal to acknowledge her as what she is in everything but name, his wife. He will not even allow her to tell their daughter that he is her father. Still, she puts up with him, because that is the way it has always been. She is not politically radical and does not understand her daughter’s growing radicalism.
Ted (44-49, is never seen on stage) He is Irene’s brother. The Korean War left him a crippled and bed-ridden. He was once young and athletic, but the war left him a shadow of himself. He survives on pain pills, dramatic temper tantrums, and his sister’s charity.