missed King Lear as
by Ian McKellan when it made its brief visit to the Brooklyn Academy of
last season (I hope to catch up via the video), but I sure remember the
reaction of one of my students. “I feel,” he said, “as if I never have
to see King
Lear again.” Now if
isn’t quite clear in print, it was abundantly clear to those of us
that he experienced what he’d seen as exhilarating and definitive.
After decades of constant theatergoing, literally countless thousands of evenings and matinees, you reach a certain age at which you know it’s going to tax your energies just that extra effort more to leave home to see yet another Twelfth Night, Misanthrope, Richard III, Glass Menagerie—or yes, even another Gypsy—because the likelihood of your being surprised anymore, of seeing a take, an interpretation or (God forbid, he said sarcastically) a straight-ahead rendering that awakens your enthusiasm, is slim. It’s not about being jaded or over-familiar so much as it’s about being disappointed—either because the new production can’t match the one or two iconic ones you saw when you were younger; or because you’ve never seen a particular play done brilliantly, only at best with competent professionalism.
also, after a while, this question:
What can you possibly do
well-worked classic to make it pop anew? Other than have it acted
Easier said than done is an understatement, to put it mildly.
I lowered my skeptical eyebrow a bit when I read that the current
incarnation of Anton Chekhov’s
imported from London in
a shiny new English
“version” by Christopher Hampton,
directed by Ian Rickson,
been the biggest sellout hit the Royal Court Theatre had ever known. How, I wondered, could
Having seen it, I don’t know for sure.
For while it’s far from a disappointment, it’s as far from a revelation.
I have a guess, though, and I’ll get to it
report, however, that the good news is, Hampton and Rickson have
to—I suppose the verb is—“restore” much of the comedy Chekhov
insists he was writing in his portrait of frustrated, dissolute,
and/or misguided lives. They’ve keyed into how everybody being in love
“wrong” person is almost a farce of manners by trying to make sure each
character’s manner is painted with prominent enough behavioral tics
persona signatures to leave an imprint. Imagine, if you will, your
quirky TV heroes and heroines, blending character tics with natural
create iconic images. Such—though I doubt conceived of in those
terms—seems to be the approach here. Thus—to name but a
few—the grand and self-centered actress Arkadina (Kristin Scott
extravagantly manipulative, and often given
to explosions borne of both cunning and fear; thus her disenfranchised
Konstantin (Mackenzie Crook),
an aspiring artist aching for her approval, is a moody, long-hairted
thus the young actress Nina (Carrie Mulligan) is all butterfly-like, bold and
simultaneously, in spurts; thus the depressive young Masha (Zoe Kazan), futilely in love with Konstantin, is
given to a
sullenness that is almost goth-like, and make-up and wardrobe fashion
that might well have been inspired by Wednesday Addams.
is all enough to potentially make a first-timer to The Seagull, or perhaps even someone who has simply
it done smartly, feel satisfied, and perhaps even better. The laughs
interpretation its memorable moments and the extreme
characterizations—given the cleverness with which they’re rendered
here—give it the gravitas a
world literature classic deserves.
the evening falls short is that not all the characterizations are quite so
memorable, and the ones that
aren’t seem perhaps even less good than they are through being
contrast (most noticeably Peter Sarsgaard’s bland Trigorin).
may have to do with the hybrid casting of Brits and Americans; since
of the key players in
company were involved in the gestation of the Royal Court production,
the collective gestalt that
informs a breakthrough communal effort hasn’t been properly replicated.
possibly—because after all, there’s nothing horribly wrong here—the production never touched that
of greatness to begin with. One might also theorize that its mere very
goodness was enough to
mark it as
a triumph, since Chekhov seems so rarely to be done even that well.
the case, this is not a Seagull to
cause a veteran’s pulses to pound; but it may well be enough for those
soaking up the atmosphere to feel they’ve seen something of unusual
I guess, is not so horrible, as the middle ground goes…