On Broadway: The Seagull
First off, I have to admit that “The Seagull” is one of my favorite plays ever written. But the production that opened last night at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater is truly – and I’m not even exaggerating - the best production of any Chekhov play I’ve had the benefit of seeing!
And the New York Times actually agrees with me. Very rarely do you see Ben Brantley dole out high praises, but he practically stated this was the greatest play of all time. He wrote: “the finest and most fully involving production of Chekhov that I have ever known.” I whole-heartily agree. It’s really hard for a critic to be this gushy, but this play deserves gush.
The production, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, hails from London’s Royal Court Theater under the direction of Ian Rickson. It was actually the last production he directed before retiring in 2006. For the Broadway debut, Peter Sarsgaard was added to the cast to play the notorious writer/womanize Trigorin. Thomas received an Olivier award for her performance, and I’m sure she’ll be in the running for a Tony this year.
Like most Chekhov plays, “The Seagull” is not a star driven. For the production to succeed, you need a strong ensemble of actors. Kristin Scott Thomas did not stand out from the other actors in terms of her performance, but like the much needed eggs in cake batter, she was a key ingredient for it’s success.
Set in early 20th century Russia, the play deals with themes of both a changing social and artistic society. Ms. Thomas is a self-centered actress (Arkadina) who cannot let go of her former glory. Her son Konstantin suffers under her narcissistic wings. Trying to create a serious expressionist play about the passing of time, his mother interrupts the production with laughter, drawing the attention back to herself. It doesn’t help that she is in domicile with the famous - and much younger - writer Trigorin (Sarsgaard). Not only is he jealous of Trigonin’s success, but also of his affections for the young aspiring actress, Nina.
As the fated Seagull from the title, Nina (Carey Mulligan) is not allowed to flap her wings before becoming a game bird for Trigonin. Bored with the aging actress, he turns his sites on Nina as an object for a short story. He tells her out-right he is writing a tale about a woman who is destroyed, like a shot seagull, by a man. The naive Nina, blinded by Trigonin’s celebrity, becomes a plaything he eventually tosses aside after impregnating.
Mulligan was born to play the role of the angel-faced Nina. Her downfall becomes all the more pitiful after Act 1’s vivacious performance. The tears in her eyes in Act 4, were from pure disappear and disappointment. During her final speech, she looks right past Konstantin as if seeing a reality that doesn’t’ exist. Konstatin cannot deal with the missed connection, and sees no other way out but through death. The casts’ inner brooding are like smoldering embers set to combust into a wildfire.
The whole cast suffers from unfilled desires, and it is these desires that eventually change their social landscape. The depressed and mopey Masha (Zoe Kazan) hopelessly loves Konstantin. And because he cannot return her love, she recklessly marries a schoolteacher and slumps even more into melancholy. Even the aging and decorated Government employee mourns the artistic life he could have lead.
Yet this is not a dark and depressing production. It is filled with funny yet heartfelt scenarios. Masha received the most laughs for her vodka swinging while uttering goth-like declaration: “I’m in mourning for my life.” Trigorin and Arkadina are in a twisted and dysfunctional relationship. Upset that Trigorin has taken an interest in Nina, she uses her acting talents to portray a madwoman hopelessly in love. After she has successfully entwined him in her web, she declares, “Got you!”
Ms. Thomas told me at the after-party, that she was quite delighted with the laughter of the American audiences. “New Yorker’s are very receptive. We were really surprised by the laughter from the American audiences. I think Americans are more responsive, they are so excited about it all. I don’t think this is a gloomy downer type Chekov at all, its really like a slice of life.”
Lets hope the British actress will grace the New York stage in more productions to come!
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