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Anton Chekhov's The Seagull

 

Theater Review

by Arielle Lipshaw

Honorable Mention # 1 of 3 of Stage and Cinema's 2008 Theater Review Writing Contest

 

“Crude. No subtlety. Lots of screaming,” is how Konstantin describes Nina’s bad acting, early in Act IV of The Seagull. Unfortunately, this description also applies to Classic Stage Company’s current production of Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play. The Seagull is set on a Russian country estate belonging to Sorin, the brother of the famous actress Irina Arkadina. The plot revolves around the idea of what it means to be an artist; some characters long for the chance to create art and live “a beautiful life,” while those who have already achieved some fame find themselves restless and unhappy with their own work.

 

The production suffers from Viacheslav Dolgachev’s bizarre direction, which dictates that those seated on the left side of CSC’s three-quarter stage are not treated to the sight of an actor’s face for almost the entire first act. In every scene, actors throw a large part of their dialogue out beyond the fourth wall, resulting in a major lack of connection between characters. This lack of a solid foundation could be the reason why complex scenes turn into simple screaming matches, particularly when Irina Arkadina (Dianne Wiest) is involved. When she fights with her son, Konstantin (Ryan O’Nan), her first insults are shrieked out with the same volume and intensity as her final blow, “Symbolist!”

 

Dolgachev has directed his actors to either stand still, facing the central section of the audience, or move frantically about, indulging in a variety of melodramatic gestures. The worst offender is Nina (Kelli Garner), the young girl whose innocence is destroyed by the workings of a cruel world. Garner’s interpretation of her character involves gasping for breath after every third word, dashing distractedly (and distractingly) from corner to corner of the stage, and adopting a weird half-Russian, half-Castilian accent for her final scene. Chekhov’s Nina is a world-weary woman by the fourth act, having suffered through Trigorin’s abandonment, the death of her illegitimate child, and the realization that she will never fulfill her dream of becoming a great actress. CSC has cast Nina too young for even the first three acts; it is no surprise that the fourth act proves far too much for Garner to handle.

 

Chekhov called all of his plays comedies, and while the humor in his works is sometimes difficult to bring across successfully, any good production must at least make the attempt. This production quickly sinks into a melodramatic mire from which it never recovers, the only truly funny moment onstage being the sight of the dead seagull’s pathetically flopping feet. The play is overly long, even by Chekhovian standards; cutting some of Konstantin’s self-indulgent silent reverie in the last scene could have reduced the running time by ten or fifteen minutes. In the final moments, the heavy-handed reappearance of the seagull, the play’s central symbol, shifts the action from the boring to the ridiculous.

 

Chekhov’s plays have an ill-deserved reputation of being dark, brooding, interminably dull, and full of Russians who do nothing but sit around crying. Many modern productions of his work are doing their best to dispel these myths; sadly, CSC’s offering reinforces every one.

 

 
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