Good News About THE SEAGULL

We’re so moving on now, in every way, to the rest of the season. We’re rehearsing for one world premiere, and over the next three weeks, we’re doing day-long workshops for another three. Next Monday, we’ll read THE RISE AND FALL OF ANNIE HALL.  And in two Mondays from now, THE ACCIDENT.

Yesterday we read, for the first time aloud, THE SEAGULL ON 16th STREET. Brought the whole cast together. Had a brilliant time together — bagels from Einstein’s — no rehearsing for this read, actually. Just a bunch of perfect actors reading characters who were adapted just for them. Wanna see them?  Let the pictures speak a thousand words; that and some character descriptions.  In short, everyone’s jazzed.  Creatively, we’re launched.  Sandra got us started, and now we’re off!

Here’s the dynamite cast of THE SEAGULL ON 16TH STREET, one by one:

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Naomi Jacobson… is Arkadina, aka Irina Nikolaevna:

Late 40s, Kostya’s mother, an aristocratic actress who does everything to conceal the aging process while eschewing every trace of the Belarussian shtetl from which her ancestors hail; she has matriculated to the highest rungs of society and is a company member with the Mali Theatre. Jealous, possessive, insecure and grandiose; needs the constant approval of artistic powers-that-be and, barring that, she’ll accept affirmations from the hired help.  Dare we call her bipolar? Call her over-the-hill?  Confront her?  She might bite.

Jerry Whiddon… is Trigorin, aka Boris Alekseevich:

Early 50s, a novelist and occasional playwright who moves easily between forms and genres and is equally successful and blasé about both the literati and theatrical celebrity worlds he frequents. His cardinal sin is his greatest gift; his facility—the ease with which he creates and connects.  Things come too quickly to him and vanish just as rapidly, including love interests, faiths and philosophies.  A man in search of no God, only a good pond to fish, and a steady stream of companions in none-too-orderly procession.  He is with Arkadina because, like her, he likes the good life, has a restless heart and, in his case, a wandering eye, matached by huge ambitions which, every so often, manifest themselves in destructive, or predatory, impulses.   He is a gentle shark.  She’s louder.  And maybe not a shark, after all.

 

Alexander Strain… is Kostya, aka Treplev, or Konstantin Gavrilovich:

A young, privileged Jewish writer of 25 with a brief but intensive undergraduate education, now overstuffed with aspirations.  Staunchly critical of the way he’s been raised and the superficial, elitist, atheistic values that have surrounded him and defined his mother’s livelihood. Only half-practicing as a Jew (growing up, as he has, among the assimilated theatrical cognoscenti of Moscow), he’s searched for an authentic identity long enough to now be full of mystical yearnings, a desire to synthesize sacred ritual and artistic truth, expressing a deeper need to bridge irreconcilable gulfs.  At root, a neglected son and lonely boy in need of a very steady girlfriend.

 

J. Fred Schiffman… is Dr. Dorn, aka Yevgeny Sergeevich:

55, a highly successful doctor, educated in Germany, unique among his colleagues in that he treats both the peasant class as well as the nobility.  Like many doctors, Jewish and highly assimilated, but very aware of his place in professional society.  Having a long-standing affair with Polina, the suppressed estate governess who finds health only in his presence, but still holds a torch for Arkadina (forever fluttering, intimidated and, of course, his natural companion) while dutifully tending to Arkadina’s ailing brother.

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Hemmingsen… is Shamraev, aka Ilya Afanasevich:

Late 40s, manager of Sorin’s estate, a former peasant who’s matriculated up through the military and is now a retired army lieutenant with dreams of trading tales with the cultural aristocracy.  Alas, he doesn’t have a chance.  Born Jewish, married non-Jewish, got Baptized; still struggling to make ends meet.  His jealousy isn’t romantic or artistic; it’s financial, ingrained, congenital, and occasionally ugly.  Which he covers with great big displays of bonhomie.  Really pretty overbearing, except that he’s also pretty right about the inequitable division of wealth in his country.  Ours too, for that matter.

Veronica Del Cerro… is Nina, aka Mikhailovna Zarechnaya:

Early 20s.  A young high school graduate from the other side of the lake who’s grown up gifted and happy until the death of her mother.  More recently, her gifts have been caged.  A soulful, angelic, exotic goddess of Kazakh or Caucusian descent.  Has long seen the Treplevas as living embodiment of a Life in the Theater; parties, performances, arguments and tears, followed by loving embraces.  For her, Konstantin is the older brother who always encouraged her to be a great actress, which isn’t to say he’s wanted to turn Nina into his mother.  Rather, he’s wanted to convert her to the cause.  She’s more in search of an authentic identity than anyone else in this play.  For the time being, it’s her beauty—her eyes, her hair, her youth—that define her for others, but how long does that last?  She’s more concerned that she doesn’t have the talent or the training to make it.  But she has the determination to try; to run away and see how far her will, and her passion, can take her.

 

Norman Aronovic… is Sorin, aka Pyotr Nikolaevich :

60, Arkadina’s brother, owner of the country estate which he shares with his sister; more comfortable in his ethnicity than she, which is to say, a cultural Jew who was baptized in order to become a comfortable member of the chinovnik, or civil service, very much aware that, in his heart he remains part of a minority at the forefront of political transition and as such, a target for backlash.  A man in touch with what he most desired but never obtained, or even really pursued; his greatest hope is that someone might achieve what he didn’t.

Tessa Klein… is Masha:

20s.  Shamraev’s and Polina’s dark daughter, a not very industrious house-cleaner and more infrequently a tutor; perhaps even a pianist (in secret).  Grew up Russian Orthodox but would convert to Judaism in a heart-beat to please Treplev, whom she’s loved with all her heart for all her life, as they’ve grown up together, seeing each other every summer on the estate.  Self-educated but not artistic, she’s neither enthralled with celebrity, nor aristocracy nor, heaven help her, the theater.  But she does love Treplev’s playwriting, and for that, we all love her.

Nanna Ingvarsson… is Polina Andreevna:

40’s. Shamraev’s wife.  A wealthy peasant (kulak) who married into the military and raised an unhappy child as mirror to her own disappointments.  A victim of verbal abuse and perhaps more, she possesses a tolerance, a grace, a belief in change and possibility, but staked her claim on the wrong change agent.  Desperately in love with Dr. Dorn who won’t rescue her but will love her for selected periods of the year. Loves her daughter and feels her pain and her longing.

Mark Krawczyk… is Medvedenko, aka Semyon Semyonovich:

Late 20s to 30s.  A schoolmaster, depressed and over-worked, all nose-to-the-grindstone and too diligent; too religiously mechanized by half.  For now, let’s call him a devout-but-uninspired believer, which isn’t the worst kind; he’s a subbotnik, after all; a Russian Orthodox Christian who observes the Sabbath and all its restrictions—Don’t ask him why; he says because it makes him happy, although he never is.  He thanks God every morning that he wasn’t made a peasant, although nobility isn’t treating him any better since the fortunes of many like him are turning with the century. Can’t understand why Masha won’t have him for a husband; it would make so much financial sense.  Well, eventually she does take him. And they both pay the price.

And then there’s… Yakov:

Late 20s.  A workman on the estate. He’ll start the next revolution.  Or be right at the forefront.  But for right now he’s resentfully doing his duty, and keeping tabs on who’ll get it point blank between the eyes first.  Reading up on his Bolshevism, soon to be invented.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Good News About THE SEAGULL

  1. Having just seen the Kristin Scott Thomas “Seagull” on Broadway, we look forward to Theater J, and are willing to wager that your version will top NYC’s.

  2. Please tell me all about the NY version of that Royal Court originated show. We saw Kristin Scott Thomas 18 months ago and thought she was brilliant! But how does the new American-British ensemble cohere?

  3. ‘NY version of that Royal Court originated show’ ? I thought it was the same production – at least that’s what it says in the Playbill. I thought it was wonderful – but no more than the production at Rep Stage a few years ago.

    I am looking forward to the version at TheaterJ too.

  4. A couple of thoughts. Kristin Scott Thomas was excellent, no question about it, as was much of the cast. The Trigorin, Peter Sarsgaard, who was not in the London production was, however, very weak in our opinion, and this took a lot from the storyline. A part of this may have been that he is much younger (I think more than ten years) than Thomas, which raised some problems, although she is pretty youthful. But Trigorin needs to be realistic both in his role as a writer and as someone with a relationship with Irina, and it did not work in this production. Of course, we saw it on the first preview night, and it had two weeks of previews. I think the opening night is tomorrow, so much could have changed, and I don’t think there have been any reviews yet.

    Their scenery and costumes worked well, although the dead/stuffed seagull looked very hokey (is there any way that it cannot? that I don’t know).

    I know that The Seagull is a “comedy”, but I have never found Chekhov to be truly comic theater, but they played it as a comedy, or perhaps a tragi-comedy, and they got a lot of laughs. At first, I was sort of taken back, but when I got used to it, I joined the laughter, and found a new view of the play (I don’t think I had seen it before; I had read it), as a satire on Russian life in the late 19th century.

    It is a fairly long play, but I think that it moved right along. The audience seemed appreciative.

    I am awaiting the reviews with interest.

  5. I should add that the Dr. Dorn/Polina relationship was also not credible, largely like I think because Polina, which was well played on one level, was too much of a peasant/hausfrau type to attract someone clearly as wordly as Dr. Dorn.

  6. Now that I am thinking about this, I realize the subtleties that are required with respect to the characterization of each actor. Dorn and Polina were not credible in large part because of their costume – he wore sophisticated urban clothes, and she looked like she made her own formless long drab dresses. Polina’s husband, on the other hand, did dress compatibly with Polina, but that was confusing as well, because it was unclear as to what his role really was in running the estate – was he just a high-ranking serf, or was he a professional whose job was to run this complex absentee landlord-owned estate; in other words, is he labor or management? His persona went back and forth from one to the other; I am not sure how he would have appeared to the 19th century Russian theater going public. Sounds like a task for a dramaturg.

    A rural Russian 19th century estate is completely foreign to a contemporary audience, so that there is an additional task of putting it into context as background in order to support and not detract from the play itself. To make it look like a real lifestyle, and not an artificial one.

    As to my earlier comments about the play being done with strong comedy, it seemed like the goal was to let those characters which are either real or wannabe actors be played in a somewhat over-the-top manner both to emphasize their theatricality, and to play for laughs. I thought this worked well.

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