Wed Mar 19 2008
Photograph: Joan Marcus
What a difference a real director makes! Much as we in the press lament the paucity of ambitious playwrights or superlative actors, the real dearth is distinctive, intelligent directors. We lack artists who can be more than glorified stage managers or celebrity coddlers, who bring fresh ideas to the rehearsal room, equally invigorating their audience and performers. I don’t know what Russian stage maestro Viacheslav Dolgachev said to or did with the ensemble of Classic Stage Company’s The Seagull, but he got results: The production is brimming with vitality, flashes of shocking beauty and emotional intensity.
This isn’t an update or deconstruction of Chekhov’s bitter 1895 comedy about the way art can devour life. Santo Loquasto’s gently weathered veranda is only slightly stylized, with a glossy, reflective floor that suggests an offstage lake. The treatment of the text is also faithful in Paul Schmidt’s vigorous, muscular translation. What’s most astonishing are the actors: You see this exceptional cast making radical, passionate decisions about their characters, relating physically with each other, turning on a dime from rapture to torment (Stanislavski stops spinning for three hours). The ensemble shines, led by Dianne Wiest as the bullying stage diva Arkádina; Alan Cumming as her paramour, the compulsive writer and womanizer Trigórin; Kelli Garner as Nína, the fame-hungry country girl seduced and discarded by Trigórin; and Ryan O’Nan as Arkádina’s tortured son, Tréplev. Excepting some ham-fisted sound cues (no more seagull cries, please) and a superfluous final tableau, there are dozens of sparkling moments in which this old bird takes flight.