Birds of a feather - The Seagull Project's production is solid but unexceptional
 

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posted Friday, February 8, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 6

Birds of a feather - The Seagull Project's production is solid but unexceptional
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE SEAGULL
THE SEAGULL PROJECT
(at ACT Theatre)
Through February 10


I rarely write in first person, and I try to sift through any personal biases when I write a review, to try to be as fair as possible to the production at hand and adjust for unfair internal attitudes if I can. The current production of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, mounted by a special group of actors (called The Seagull Project) who wanted so deeply to do justice to the play, has flummoxed me. So I thought I'd write in the first person to deconstruct the experience better.

There already have been plenty of reviews elsewhere that extol the virtues of this production. Expectations were high due to the cast and the breathless prose of their pre-show releases, all about their immersion into the project for months ahead of time, bucking the usual trend of three- to five-week rehearsals. Indeed, the cast has many wonderful actors in it, including some I love to watch: Julie Briskman, John Bogar, Peter Crook, Hannah Victoria Franklin, and Alexandra Tavares.

WHAT WOULD CHEKHOV DO?
I experienced what I'd call a 'solid' production, with aspects of complex characterization, not outside the normal expectations of a cast like this. The actors were enjoyable, and the technical aspects (Jennifer Zeyl's versatile wood-plank set, Doris Black's beautiful costumes, Andrew D Smith's lighting, and exquisite music and sound from Robertson Witmer) supported the production well.

What I didn't experience was a superlative performance, nor one that broke the boundaries of (normal) expectation. While there were moments of humor, they were small ones, regardless of how much focus has been put on this production unleashing Chekhov's humor. In fact, the two most humorous characters - the actress-mother Arkadina (Briskman) and the pining peasant daughter (Franklin) - had notes that seemed to be from a different aesthetic in another production.

What would have been truly exceptional, risk-taking, and noteworthy to me is if the production had explicitly tried to play Chekhov as I think he might have meant this play to be: a dramedy. Chekhov thought of himself as a satirist. The Seagull, if played at a much faster pace and less reverentially, might reflect a lot more to laugh at. These are rich people pining after each other in serial fashion, without much else to do with their lives, after all. What 'first world' problems they have.

ARCHAIC LANGUAGE
This play used a newer translation by (Dr.) Carol Rocamora. However, the translation didn't feel new, and in fact, felt overly reverential and antique. Certainly, there are choices in new translations whether to update language more toward modern English or keep the style as it was written. Rocamora's translation feels like the latter, and therefore does not connect with our modern sensibilities as well.

An irritating example? Schoolmaster Medvedenko speaks of seeing Nina on the road and says, 'I gave her my greeting.' That could have been 'I greeted her' or even 'I said hello.' The choice of translation here sounds preservatory and conservative.

Director John Langs was brought in for the regular amount of rehearsals (four weeks ahead) and handed a slate of actors likely immersed in specific character choices, mood, and of like mind, so it's impossible to determine whether he had a vision that melded the production or if he was asked essentially to make sure no one bumped into each other.

If your expectations are that Russian drama is a long, drawn-out affair with a mostly somber mood, about sad people, spoken well, then you're likely to have a wonderful time. It's similar to regularly well-done Shakespeare, and that statement shows my bias clearly. Regularly-done Shakespeare doesn't illuminate Shakespeare well to me. For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call (206) 292-7676.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.



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