The Seagull and Other Birds: Theater review by Helen Shaw
If you need an introduction to the Irish deconstructionist ensemble Pan Pan, consider this: In the script for The Seagull and Other Birds, it says that the preset for the show is a “lunchtime atmosphere.” Lunchtime at Pan Pan Theatre Company is, we gather, a bunch of people standing around under white sheets, while others, dressed in ballet leotards, pogo enthusiastically to Bruce Hornsby. Whatever you may wind up thinking of the creators—and this show can be uneven—you will definitely want to eat your next meal with them.
Here we are in the land of the authentically zany, and at its best Seagull goes quite mad. But while Pan Pan made the sensational Oedipus Loves You and The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, they are rather less successful with this riff on Chekhov. Following the postmodern playbook, director Gavin Quinn and the ensemble have cut The Seagull down to its bare bones, then added audience participation (Una McKevitt's Masha dragoons herself a husband) and interpolated other texts. Thus, while Seagull's familiar Konstantin (Dick Walsh) still tries to impress his mum Arkadina (a wonderful Gina Moxley) with his stab at avant-garde playwriting, now the featured playlet is a hilarious microporn called The Shag. Indeed all the additional texts are named for birds, and everyone's a playwright; later a tutu-wearing Sorin (Daniel Reardon) will pass around pages from his own bit o' weird, The Oystercatcher.
The performers are, without fail, charming, and it's always fun to see men wearing unbecoming tights. But the momentum goes wonky. Chekhov's original resists them, and in trying to force the Pan Pan spirit into it, the group tires itself out. Perhaps it's because their source was already a comedy—as opposed to their usual tragic targets—and so going bareknuckle bonkers doesn't actually shift the work. Or maybe it's because they include an awkward section in which the company does a gangsta-rap revision of a scene. “There is certain thangs up in tha ghetto, when dizzle n' night a playa can be thinkin only of sunrise,” Trigorin (Andrew Bennett) blusters to Nina (Judith Roddy). Later the Pans send up their incompetence during a Swan Lake dance break; the play is consistently playing with awkwardness. Still, the long “shizzle” sequence goes over like a lead balloon, and Seagull has a hard time gaining airspeed thereafter.—Helen Shaw
Abrons Arts Center (Off-Off Broadway). By Anton Chekhov and Pan Pan Theatre Company. Directed by Gavin Quinn. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission.