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Chekhov's "The Seagull" at the Walter Kerr Theatre

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The Royal Court Theatre Production of
The Seagull
By Anton Chekhov

In a New Version by
Christopher Hampton
(Read about Chekhov’s Play)
Directed by Ian Rickson

At the
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th Street

Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Peter Sarsgaard
Mackenzie Crook

Featuring: Art Malik, Carey Mulligan, Pearce Quigley
Peter Wight, Zoe Kazan, Ann Dowd, Julian Christopher Patrick Nolan,
Mary Rose, Mark L. Montgomery

Scenic and Costume Design: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: Ian Dickinson
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Production Stage Manager: Arthur Gaffin
UK Casting: Lisa Makin
US Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA
General Management: Stuart Thompson Productions/David Turner
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Producer for RBT: Tim Levy
UK General Management: Sonia Friedman Productions

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 3, 2008

(See a Play about Anton Chekhov)

I remember every experience, attending a Chekhov play, as the playwright so deeply draws from our innermost souls, our innermost secrets, our foibles and failures, our desires and dread. Ian Rickson brought his new London production of The Seagull to New York, and, surely enough, the audience will forever remember the experience. In fact, just for pure acting and theatrical nuance, The Seagull at the Walter Kerr Theatre should be seen at least twice, and you might experience moments of mirrored persona in one or more characters, in one or more scenes. Even with a star-studded cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas (“Tell No One”, “Gosford Park”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Kinsey”), and Art Malik (“True Lies”, “The Jewel in the Crown”), it’s the ensemble that remains in the memory, the choreographed conversations, the pregnant pauses, the internalized longing, the lost opportunities.

This production opens in the garden of Sorin’s (Peter Wight) estate (ailing brother of the actress, Arkadina), where Sorin lives with Arkadina’s (Ms. Thomas) would-be literary son, Konstantin (Mackenzie Crook). The setting is black, the crickets abound, and the audience is the lake, to which the family and companions look for solace and meaning. There are logs, candles, and brief fires. Konstantin has created a short play within this play, with a soliloquy for Nina, the object of his desire, and there begins the long list of desired objects, mostly unfulfilled. The only character that wins, in demands and pleadings for whom she wants, is Arkadina, the quintessential woman in “her prime’, who captures her younger lover, the passive, entrapped Trigorin (Mr. Sarsgaard), a writer of short stories. Trigorin is desired by Nina (Carey Mulligan), after he transforms her into his “seagull”, and he reads to her in advance his expose on such a conquest. Masha (Zoe Kazan), who desires Konstantin and wears black exclusively to “mourn her life”, drinks, smokes, and exudes despair.

And there’s more. Konstantin loves and longs for his mother, Arkadina, but she’s so determined to self-preserve, that she hoards her funds for her acting career and wardrobe (and probably Trigorin), while she allows her son and brother to live in the progress of poverty. In Act II, inside the white, peeling, plastered walls, Konstantin asks Arkadina to wrap his self-inflicted gunshot wound. She does so with detail, but not devotion. When he rips the wrapping off, he rips off his maternal bond, his empty hope. Konstantin is appalled after Nina returns with a failed acting career, as she still despairs for Trigorin, who remains entrapped by Arkadina. Meanwhile, Masha is loved by Medvedenko (Pearce Quigley), a stiff schoolteacher, who succeeds in marriage but loses in love. Masha’s father is Shamrayev (Julian Gamble), who works on the decaying estate, and his wife, Polina (Ann Dowd), is in love with the doctor, Dorn (Mr. Malik), the one character who desires no one, the one character who sees all and remains in his private island. Each actor develops his/her character in such a way that the ensemble is stylistically cohesive and proceeds with a pulse, with words, with silence, with glances, with glares, and with posture and expression of remorse and retreat.

This production has mystical qualities, with a gong and ancient instruments, utilized in Konstantin’s Act I play within the play, in the slow lighting of candles and fires, in the dimness of Act I’s self-delusions, and in the bright, white light of Act II’s bare revelations. The sound, scenic, and lighting designs are extraordinary, and early exotic tones enhance the magical mood. This is a satisfying night at the theatre on many levels, and certainly the superb talented cast met the challenge of the playwright and the goals of the director. Kristin Scott Thomas’ tour de force moment came in Act II, when she kneeled, grabbing onto her lover’s leg, pleading for him to stay. Mr. Sarsgaard’s moment occurred in Act I, as he set out to verbally seduce his “seagull”, Nina. Ms. Mulligan’s moments occurred in both Acts I and II, her theatrical soliloquy and her return in defeat, wasted and lost. Ms. Kazan’s moments occurred in both Acts I and II, in her mournful black entrance and in her rejection of her husband. Mr. Crook’s moment occurred in Act II, in the realization of his loneliness and his creative deterioration. Mr. Malik’s moment comes at the play’s finale, as he springs to life, when he firmly takes charge.

Kudos to the entire cast, kudos to Ian Rickson and Christopher Hampton, and kudos to Anton Chekhov. Do not miss this production.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at