Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Seagull"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"The Seagull"

byAnton Chekhov
Adaptation by Robert Brustein
Directed by Dawn Davis

Lighting design by Jeremy Kumin & William Kenyon
Movement Workshops by Melissa Bruce"

A Teacher (Medvedenko).........Phillip Salazar
Shamrayev's Daughter (Masha).....Amy B. Carrol
Older Brother(Sorin)............Edwin Beschler
Arkadina's Son (Treplev)...Adam T. Rosencrance
Neighbor's Daughter (Nina).......Irina Salimov
Shamrayev's Wife (Polina)...Bonnie-Jean Wilbur
Doctor (Dorn).................Floyd Richardson
An Actress (Arkadina)...........Anna Smulowitz
A Writer (Trigorin).............Phillip Atkins
Estate Manager (Shamrayev)..........Doug Hodes

If a group calling itself "Liberation! Films" were to put "The Seagull" by Anton Chekhov on the stage, what would you expect to see? Well, you'd probably be wrong, but for only this week-end you can see the intriguing results at the ICA Theatre.
Rather than reaching for realism, this cast spent several months tearing Chekhov's story down to essences: no intermissions, no hand-props, no hundred-year-old costumes, three metal chairs for set, attempts to physicalize emotion into often abstract movement-patterns, and direct confrontational rather than conversational dialogue. In thus distancing themselves from all the play's conventions, the cast reinvigorates this classic into a new theatrical form.

Once all the traditionalists and purists have gotten over their shock (or have left), they may see this show with fresh eyes. The movement patterns are simple and repetitive --- often a bit like a modern-dance ballet --- but always expressively related to the play. At one point, while the conversation meanders over trivialities, one person, lying flat on the floor, rolls furiously back and forth, his face wrapped in his arms. (He will have killed himself by the end of the act.) At one point a woman's face turns repeatedly toward the man she loves who doesn't love back, only to have her hand, repeatedly, reach up to twist her gaze away. These movements never distract from the words --- in fact, freed of a pretense to reality, the actors can shout out their confrontations with even more passion.

And there is a clue in the text that justifies all this. The young writer begins by staging a reading of his youthful play --- set two thousand years in the future when life itself is extinct --- and insists that in order to be vital once more, theater demands New Forms. The impressive company clearly illustrates that impulse by pouring Chekhov's old wine into this striking new bottle. Thus it is this young and continually frustrated writer whose story and whose agonies are at the center of the production.

Unfortunately, like the play's hero, this production's only one weekend here in Boston will give no opportunity to find its audience. The word-of-mouth will be too late. However, "Liberation! Films" intends to set up permanent residence in Boston, and lovers of sincere "experiments" in theater --- like myself --- can look forward to further work from the company, from the highly expressive lighting-design team of Jeremy Kumin and William Kenyon, and from the company's Director Dawn Davis and their Movement Coach Melissa Bruce. A city where "Mama Mia!" and "Annie" still break records for ticket sales always needs more envelope-pushers.


"The Seagull" (27 February - 2 March)
Institute of Contemporary Art Theatre, 955 Boylston Street, BOSTON MA
1 (617)???-????

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide