nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
March 8, 2008
[Note: A good summary of the plot of The Seagull is here.]
In his production of The Seagull, director Viacheslav Dolgachev creates a portrait of life in the early 1900s that speaks to anyone who's ever had an ambition fulfilled. Chekhov's not-quite rich, careless bohemians are struggling with the fact that having their dreams come true does not solve life's questions—or even make them happier. This exquisite production owes much of its structural integrity to Paul Schmidt's excellent translation. Schmidt has the ear of a playwright, and his words are the canvas for a show that has all the quiet humanity of an Edward Hopper painting.
But despite the natural, quiet tone, I understood for the first time why Chekhov called this play a comedy. Comedy is about surviving and Dianne Wiest's Arkadina is the ultimate survivor. She stays away from her son and brother not because she doesn't love them—she loves them very much—but because she can't stand the death and failure they represent. She does her duty—changes Konstantin's bandages after his suicide attempt even though it breaks her heart, returns to keep her brother company as he lays dying—but that doesn't mean she likes it. It's why she stays with Trigorin even after he cheats on her, because Alan Cumming's liquid and sexy Trigorin will always come out on top. In fact, this production makes clear that the main thing that separates Trigorin from Konstantin is not talent, but the will to survive.
But this vivid interpretation leaves no character unturned. Ryan O'Nan's Konstantin chooses life even with his suicide attempts. In the hands of Marjan Neshat, Masha's unhappiness isn't a gothic pretension but a struggle with what today we'd call clinical depression. The rest of the cast, including Kelli Garner as Nina, Annette O'Toole as Paulina, David Rasche as Dorn, Bill Christ as Shamrayev, and John Christopher Jones as Sorin is exceptional. But the scene-stealer of the play is Ryan Holmchick as Yakov, whose brief and sullen interjections make this tiny character one of the most memorable in the play.
Equally important are Santo Loquasto's sets, Suzy Benzinger's costumes, and Brian MacDevitt's lights. The mirrors reflecting on mirrors give the stage the wet, dissolving feeling of an unkempt summer house. The simple, comfortable clothes say something about the people who wear them. And the mismatched furniture and the constant presence of Konstantin and Nina's stage contribute to the feeling of lost, fantastical summer.
The last act is a living wake, with all the somberness and celebration that implies. Sorin may be dying, but the living will keep playing lotto for as long as they have breath. And Dolgachev makes clear that no human being—no matter what their achievements and no matter what their dreams—is immune from struggle, failing, and disappointment.