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.