Theater review by Helen Shaw. New Ohio Theatre. Written and directed by Tina Satter. With ensemble cast. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
For all its grounding in a massive, classic work, the absurdist Chekhov riff Seagull (Thinking of You) is all atmosphere, little gravity. To be sure, those already familiar with director Tina Satter’s crew will find certain pleasures sparkling in the drifting haze. The patented Half Straddle mix of melodrama and amateurishness coincides deliciously with Chekhov’s own sly melancholia, and Satter draws clear parallels between her beloved actors and Chekhovian archetypes. (Ageless Susie Sokol vamps as Arkadina; brush-cut sprite Jess Barbagallo swaggers with sulky machismo.) But surely there should be more than in-company joking here? Chekhov seems to have frightened Satter. I’ve never seen her work be so glossy, yet reveal so little anger underneath.
Half Straddle specializes in a specific emotional tenor: teenage abstraction, Valley Girl angst. Actors strike poses, chat in Russian, twirl their hair and give up before they start. (“Did you have a good summer?” “Who the fuck knows?”) With the company’s name written in puffy ’80s cursive on the back wall, curtains flutter as a grumpy Masha (Eliza Bent) cruises by on a skateboard. Characters from Chekhov’s masterpiece wander desultorily in and out of rehearsal and across gender lines—Barbagallo may be love-struck Konstantin (with Nina played by the quivering, brilliant Emily Davis), but Mama Sokol seems to have borrowed some of our heartbroken hero’s lines. No postmodern gamesmanship, though, can jumpstart the relentless ennui; even screamed Russian death-metal songs (by company composer Chris Giarmo) seem like harmless jokes.
At its sweet and loopy best, we’re reminded of our affection for these specific actors, but at its worst, Seagull drags its wings. Even 80 minutes is a long time to watch a caprice on Chekhovian themes, to pay attention to marginalia. Satter has made a complement to a major work but not, perhaps, a work itself.—Helen Shaw