BWW Reviews: THE SEAGULL, Old-School Theatre for the Modern World
By Evan Andrew Mackay, special to BroadwayWorld
Toronto gets one more blast of snow as I settle in at Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs to watch blustery Chekhov characters spend a summer holiday in the Russian countryside. A group of actors called The Chekhov Collective formed a year ago and began developing this production of The Seagull using the methods of Michael Chekhov, nephew of Anton Chekhov. The Seagull, which is heavy on theme and light on levity, is a self-referential play wherein Chekhov's characters examine what makes good theatre, good art, and good life.
A famous but past-her-prime actress, Irina (co-producer Rena Polley), clashes with her son Konstantin (Riley Gilchrist) who aspires to write "new forms of theatre". He says her conventional plays are boring; she says what he writes is incomprehensible, and she mocks him as he performs for the family at the country estate of her 60-year-old brother Sorin (Greg Ellwand). Only Doctor Dorn (Sean Sullivan) tells Konstantin he likes his play and encourages him to keep writing.
There are overlapping love triangles, young characters impatient for success, and older ones lamenting over missed youth and "What's left of our lives". That most banal creature, the seagull, is a species which engenders feelings of indifference and contempt, rarely admiration and respect - kind of like how people may sometimes feel about artists, lovers, or even family members. Konstantin shoots a seagull and then chides himself for the senseless act. He makes a gift of it to the woman he loves, Nina (Nicole Wilson), a young actress who dreams of fame. Director Peggy Coffey might have mined more nuggets of humour from this play that Chekhov calls a comedy, but you can only laugh so much at the suffering of characters you identify with so strongly.
In the last act, set two years after the summer holiday of the first three acts, Ellwand and Wilson do remarkable work in presenting themselves as drastically altered by the passage of time and fortune. The most solid performance is given by Polley, whose portrayal of the atrociously self-absorbed diva repeatedly makes your jaw drop.
The production is low-tech (I could hear the light switch as it was flicked to produce lightning). The lattice-wall set, designed by Rob Gray, and the old-school scene changes (lights dimmed as furniture is shuffled about), are refreshingly gimmick-free. There is a pervading atmosphere of nostalgia to the show, and yet other than the costumes (by Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish of Comrags) everything in this play, with all of its longing and loss, feels current. Only Chekhov could make dissatisfaction so satisfying. It's not the funniest comedy of the year, but The Chekhov Collective gives The Seagull wings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Andrew Mackay writes theatre reviews for Post City Magazines. He is currently seeking a publisher for his first novel and is further developing his latest play, Father Hero Traitor Son (2013), about a war hero with a traitorous son, (not as many laughs as the play about colorectal cancer which he co-wrote and performed in at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival). Evan writes drama, prose and humour in any form, and he is a journalist of culture and social justice. Also, he is obsessed with languages.* He has been a regular contributor to Post City Magazine and Nikkei Voice, national newspaper of Japanese Canadians. Raised in the Maritimes, he tends to live in Toronto.