Review – The Seagull – Arcola Theater

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Two weeks later and I find I still haven’t done a full write-up of The Arcola’s Seagull. It’s stayed with me, though, perhaps unsurprisingly given that it’s the first Chekhov I didn’t hate (as well as my first Seagull). We had, as ever, the irritating, useless dascha owners flouncing around on their country estates, being useless and indecisive and basically making me long for the Bolsheviks to come along and clear them off the face of history. Arkadina (Geraldine James), a spoiled, past-her-prime actress who wastes money to keep up appearences, is a perfect example of the Russian play character I’ve grown to loathe. And yet …

Just what has been done to make this play go into the realm of melancholy and tragedy in just the right measures to pull me along? Is it the sympathy I, now, as a middle aged woman, feel for Arkadina as she tries to hold onto her own fading glory? Is it the desperation James brings to the role, as Arkadina tramples her own self-respect to keep her younger lover Trigorin (Matt Wilkinson) at her side?

Maybe, perhaps, it’s the milieu, of actors and writers and those who wish to join their ranks: it’s one I empathize with far more than tales of poor marriage choices and bad financial managements. Konstantin (Al Weaver) is a slappably pathetic teenaged playwright who wants his actress mom’s approval, but can’t get it when she is the one who wants to be the center of attention at all times; yet he grows over the course of the play and finally seems to grasp that skill does not come without effort. Meanwhile Yolanda Kettle is deliciously tasty and dreamy as a country girl dreaming of the fame those around her have seemingly effortlessly; she has a whiff of madness even at the beginning that carries nicely through to her final scene with Konstantin. Carrying through it is an early Goth type, Masha, who wears black “in mourning for my life;” she’s unflinchingly sensible and unsentimental throughout the play and utterly funny, like a 19th century Nemi (or even a Morrisey, “I wear black on the outside/Cause black is how I feel on the inside”).

While the ensemble is quite strong, I felt that neither Weaver or Kettle actually got to the emotional depth they needed to plumb in the last act; and despite the story seeming to be so very much about Arkadina and Trigorin, they are not the impetus that drives this play. Overall, I think, this is a very fine outing and lovely in such a small space, and better than any Russian play I’ve seen before; but somewhere out there is perfection for a Seagull, and I feel strongly that this rewritten script will eventually yield that shining pearl of a play, only not quite with this cast at this time.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, June 15th, 2011. It continues through July 16th. For a review of this performance, please see Tim Watson or (eventually) RevStan. well, actually, neither of them appear to have written about it yet, so please read Ian Foster’s.)

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