Friday, October 3, 2008

The Seagull

I went as a dutiful Drama Desk voter and because I wanted to see Kristin Scott Thomas in her Broadway debut. I stayed because Scott Thomas and the rest of the cast were just so darn good.

Many people would not have considered going to a Chekhov play a duty, and once upon a time I wouldn’t have either. I was in high school when I first saw The Seagull back in 1971 at Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE and I was totally involved and left the theatre moved by the lives of these people. Now, though, as a critic who sees plays whether I want to or not, and was in fact seeing my third show of the week, sitting through nearly three hours of alienation and regret is not as thrilling as it used to be. As the play’s provincial doctor says, “Everyone is so neurotic.” They certainly are, but they are also recognizably human and this cast brings them vividly to life.

Chekhov’s theme of loneliness is further enhanced by Hildegard Bechtler’s sets, especially the sparse living room of the second act that mirrors the emptiness of the inhabitants' lives.

This revival, which opened last night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, comes to Broadway following an acclaimed three-month run early last year at London's Royal Court, then as now under the direction of Ian Rickson. That production became a sold-out hit and the best-selling show in the Royal Court’s 50-year history.

Scott Thomas (in photo) won an Olivier Award for her portrayal of Arkadina in the London production and will most certainly be nominated for, and possibly win, a Tony for her performance here.

Another cast member from that production likely to be honored during awards season here is Carey Mulligan who is luminous as Nina in the first act and effectively hardened yet still vulnerable in the second.

I was delighted to see Ann Dowd as a bustling and caring Polina. I met Ann six years ago when I interviewed her for my book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors. I had been a fan of hers from her time as Sister Maureen on the short-lived, but excellent, TV series “Nothing Sacred.” We met for an hour one morning and her thoughts became a powerful part of my Self-Knowledge chapter.

The Seagull, which features a new translation by playwright Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Philanthropist), plays a 14-week engagement, closing Dec. 21.

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