A revelatory 'Seagull,' starring Kristin Scott Thomas, soars with uncommon clarity
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic
NEW YORK (AP) _ The disappointed souls who populate "The Seagull," Anton Chekhov's exquisite tale of regret by way of ill-fated romance, have never looked or, what is more important, sounded better.
They have arrived on Broadway courtesy of London's Royal Court Theatre, and the result is a revelation. There have been several productions of "The Seagull" in New York within the last year or so but none has had the clarity and emotional impact of Christopher Hampton's new translation. Hampton's crisp, clean adaptation lays the groundwork for director Ian Rickson's uncommonly lucid revival that stars Kristin Scott Thomas (making her Broadway debut) as the supremely self-absorbed actress Arkadina.
Rickson's actors, a mixture of British and American performers, have found the right balance between comedy and tragedy in Chekhov's late 19th-century look at upper-crust Russians dithering away their lives, often in the foolish pursuit of what might have been.
Like Arkadina, many of these benighted creatures are artists. She, of course, is the most extravagant and in Scott Thomas' striking, elegant performance, we get a beautiful, impetuous woman who craftily knows how to use her considerable physical charms to get what she wants.
That she dominates both her neurotic son, Konstantin, and her lover, the writer Trigorin, is a testament to this siren's considerable allure. Yet it is Trigorin who is the lynchpin of Chekhov's play, a writer forever on the prowl for artistic inspiration, no matter the consequences.
Trigorin's popular success infuriates the humorless Konstantin, portrayed by a gaunt Mackenzie Crook with haunting intensity. Trigorin is outwardly laconic and personable. Yet he's also destructive in his use of people. Peter Sarsgaard perfectly captures that dichotomy in the man's single-mindedness as he pursues the perfect word or phrase.
"The Seagull" is as much about the making of art, specifically writing, as it is about the dashing of dreams. Trigorin and Konstantin do share the same agony that goes into creation — but with wildly different results.
Trigorin mesmerizes Konstantin's beloved Nina, an impressionable local young woman, played by the tremulous, bewitching Carey Mulligan. Nina takes the biggest journey in "The Seagull," traveling from exuberant innocent to sad realist, and it's heartbreaking to watch the luminous Mulligan transformed into a wan, disillusioned and thoroughly used woman.
One of the reasons "The Seagull" reverberates with such greatness is its parade of insightfully drawn minor characters. Chekhov creates a whole universe on the country estate owned by Arkadina's older brother, Sorin. He's a bumbling bureaucrat, plagued by approaching old age and fretting over how life has passed him by. Peter Wight portrays Sorin with a genial humor, despite his frequent proclamations about what life could have held for him.
Observing these ever-multipying regrets is the domain of Dorn, a ladies man of a doctor played by Art Malik with appropriate dispassion. His affair with the estate manager's wife (a superb Ann Dowd) is going nowhere and her silent suffering at his indifference is ferociously captured in Dowd's icy disdain. Watch, for example, how she destroys a bouquet of flowers. Scene-stealing at it's best.
"Unrequited love is something that only happens in novels," sneers Masha, the estate manager's daughter whose pining for Konstantin negates her own words. As played by the deliciously acerbic Zoe Kazan, Masha paints the darkest picture of what those people on stage are going through. And she helps contribute to the gloom, badgering her hapless husband played by a wonderfully woebegone Pearce Quigley.
"I'm in mourning for my life," Masha says, right at the top of the evening. It's one of the play's more famous lines. And it's a statement that could be reiterated by any number of characters in "The Seagull." Who knew so much unhappiness could be so theatrically satisfying.
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Show Run Time: 2 hours & 40 minutes with 1 intermission
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