Chekhov’s Seagull gets its wings clipped | Shanghai Daily

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May 13, 2018

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Chekhov’s Seagull gets its wings clipped

PRODUCTIONS of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” almost always tip too far into farce or wade too deeply into tragedy, unable to sustain the play’s elusive balancing act. Michael Mayer’s lush and lively big-screen adaptation is no exception.

On the plus side, Mayer, a veteran theater director, has if anything leaned more into the comic nature of “The Seagull.”

Chekhov, whose play was first performed in 1896, did indeed call it a comedy. That makes this “Seagull” a kind of flipside to Sidney Lumet’s dull and sluggish 1968 version, essentially the only other significant film adaptation of one of Chekhov’s most beloved works.

Working from a script by Stephen Karam, Mayer seems to swing entirely in the other direction.

His “Seagull” shrinks some of the play’s dialogue, robbing it of its rhythm.

For a distinctly Russian play, he’s made a notably American film, pleasantly unstuffy but also less substantial and lacking the tenor of Chekhov’s music.

“The Seagull” is set around the Treplev family estate where Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) has come to visit her brother, Sorin (Brian Dennehy), and her brooding aspiring playwright son, Konstantin (Billy Howle).

Irina is an aging actress of the Moscow stage and she brings along her lover, the celebrated writer Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), whose presence in the provincial household begets numerous anxieties.

Trigorin’s success is the envy of Konstantin, who soon finds his sweetheart, Nina Zarechnaya (Saoirse Ronan), is lured by the preying Trigorin.

It’s a talented cast but the only one at home in their role is Bening, proven exceptional at portraying the waning glamour and growing distress of divas late in life. She’s funny and broken at once, perfectly poised in that Chekhovian limbo.




 

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