Ian Rickson’s wonderful production of Anton Chekhov’s classic The Seagull starring a marvelous Kristin Scott Thomas as the tempestuous Russian actress Arkadina, is never less than entertaining and often much more. Working with a new modern translation by Christopher Hampton, Rickson’s Seagull originally debuted at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where it was a heralded success.
Arriving on Broadway with only a couple of cast changes, the latest revival is the third to be seen in the New York City area in just over a year, a testament to the enduring appeal of Chekhov’s masterpiece. Luring established well known actors like Dianne Wiest and Alan Cummings, who starred in one, and Sir Ian Mckellen, who was featured in another, the compelling tale of loss and desire concerns the entanglements of a group of actors and writers gathered at Arkadina’s Russian estate. If none of the recent productions have been definitive – no one seems to get it just right – Rickson’s graceful staging featuring the elegant Thomas in a role that suits her perfectly is far and away the best of the three.
Taking a naturalistic approach to Hampton’s contemporary re-tooling, Rickson’s Seagull is emotionally lush with uniformly good work from the entire ensemble. There is, however, one glaring exception. Peter Sarsgaard, new to the company, plays the writer Trigorin, Arkadina’s younger lover, as if in a vacuum. His melancholy even handed approach does little to serve the play’s volatile rhythms. His infatuation with the young actress Nina, played by the luminous Carey Mulligan, ultimately destroys her and Konstantin, Arkadina’s unstable son nicely played by MacKenzie Crook.
Trigorin is the catalyst for the action, provoking Konstantin’s jealousy and Arkadina’s insecurities, while captivating Nina. Without a charismatic Trigorin you wonder what all the fuss is about and the play’s impact is diluted. Rickson’s staging is rather obvious with a heavy handed darkness that needs to be played against to accentuate the story’s tragedy.
Still in her Broadway debut Kristin Scott Thomas, an Oscar nominee for The English Patient, shines as the aging diva turning in a colorful flamboyant portrayal that is the commanding centerpiece of the evening. If we feel little for her, it apparently doesn’t matter, and she looks stunning in the period gowns by Hildegard Bechtler (who did the sets as well) that accentuate her youthful figure.
Zoe Kazan, another addition to the cast, delivers a no holds barred thrilling portrait of the desperate Masha, whose unrequited love of Konstantin is her undoing.
Rickson’s somewhat over-wrought approach to The Seagull is always engaging and the gifted actors serve him well. But the irony, so essential to the drama, is sorely missing.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
The Seagull opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, on October 2, 2008 for a 14 week limited engagement through December 21.