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A CurtainUp Review
The Seagull: The Hamptons, 1990s
By Elyse Sommer
The adventurous little Worth Theater Company has chosen to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of one of Chekhov's four classics, The Sea Gull, with a revival of its own thoroughly modern adaptation first seen at the now defunct Rapp Arts Center seven years ago.
None of the grandeur of czarist Russia for this Seagull. Instead the adaptor-director Jeff Cohen sets his cast down on the sands of the Hamptons, using Chekhov's text as a framework for re-creating Chekhov's malcontents within a context that would, if the master were brought back to life to see it, make him scratch his beard. While even a translation to some extent tampers with a playwright's words, a major overhaul like this, complete with Americanized names, interjected allusions and vernacular (including extensive use of the F word) can be troublesome.
What I admired about Richard Schechner's unusual and ingenious interpretation of The Three Sisters last season (see link at end) was how he managed to have each of the four acts performed in a different dramatic style while remaining completely faithful to Chekhov's original text. Cohen also remains faithful to the dramatic plot and personae, but to bring his Sea Gull into the Twentieth Century, he has interpolated his own dialogue.
Does it work? Yes and no. To understand this on-the-fence stance, a brief summary of the plot: Irina (renamed Irene), a second-rate actress lives on the glamorized memory of her past. Her lover, Trigorin is a writer who has achieved fame but not for the ages. Her son Konstantin (renamed Conrad) writes obscure novels and plays which are scorned by his mother and Trigorin, as his love is rejected by the restless, theatrically ambitious Nina. Several other malcontents round out this picture of lives lived in a fog of frustration, frittered away and, in one case, violently ended.
Even without re-reading the play or seeing a traditional revival, it's not hard to see how these characters could fit right in with today's generation of self-absorbed, celebrity-mad, chronic yearners for the impossible (and often unworthy dream). Irene (a.k.a. Irina) is your typical middle-aged semi-celebrity desperately seeking harder-to-get jobs. Conrad (a.k.a. Konstantin) is the avant-garde artist with nothing but disdain for Trigorin's kind of writer, one whose books are featured in the window of Barnes and Noble.
And so, yes, Cohen's vision of the link between Chekhov's restless Russians and these Americanized counterparts works. As performed by this fine cast, especially the ethereal Marin Hinkle last seen in The Dybbuk (See Links at end) whose restless spirit is symbolized by the sea-gull, the characters are convincingly realized. The scene when Irene (Lizbeth Mackay) seduces Trigorin (Charles Tuthill) adds a nice sexy touch. Ted Pierce's spare set effectively evokes the beach locale.
The basis for my no it doesn't work is that even without completely abandoning Chekhov's best lines -- i.e. "I'm in mourning for my life" -- the addition of the allusions and slang vernacular do rob the original text of its richness. As Chekhov's text doesn't ever get tiresome, the constant trendy references do. And while the two hours are never boring, in the final analysis I feel Mr. Cohen is inventive and talented enough to focus on playwrighting from scratch.
Even considering this less than 100% yes opinion, this production does have more energy than some "authentic" versions I've seen. (One particularly dismal one done some years back at the National Actors Theater comes to mind). My suggestion, especially to Chekhov fans: Go see it and also book the traditional version coming up soon from the Blue Lights Company. Also, be sure to check out our special feature (see Link list below) on Chekhov and its links to past, present and future productions
Links to plays and features mentioned above:
Richard Schecner's Time-Traveling Three Sisters
Review of Marin Hinkle's last play, The Dybbuk
Facts Abut Chekhov