BWW Review: THE SEAGULL at Serenbe Playhouse
Fresh off the mammoth production of the musical Titanic, a spectacular production that garnered a boatload of much-deserved national press, Serenbe Playhouse is offering up something radically different this month: a modern reimagining of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, complete with hypnotic Balkan music by talented composer Anais Azul. The ambitious play, under the direction of Elizabeth Dinkova, the adaptor of the work, is a must-see for the gorgeous site-specific staging at Peek Lake near Serenbe, a setting that a purist's Chekhov would also flourish in. Unfortunately, Dinkova's experimental script is troubled, trying too hard to make a statement about art's power to blur the boundaries between reality and illusion and relying much too heavily on the intrusive narratorial voice of Constance, a gender-flipped Konstantin from the original work, to hammer out its profundity for us. In addition, turning the heavy language of Chekhov into the spare language of today's texters and tweeters is #trickybusiness, and Dinkova's dialogue, which often feels clunky and forced, falls a bit flat. In the end, the production, though visually stunning, provocative, and well-acted, never quite soars to its full potential.
The Seagull follows a group of artists, all gathered at a country estate where Constance, a novice playwright, hopes to win approval from her mother with her new play which turns out to be "much too avant garde." Constance's mother, a famous aging actress with a healthy load of emotional baggage, withholds her approval of the work, fanning the flames of the tension between her daughter, Constance, and her boyfriend, Boris, a story writer of significant notoriety. Constance becomes depressed because she has failed in front of Nina, a young neighbor, whom she loves. When Nina's attraction to Boris sets in place a complicated love triangle, the play barrels to a shocking climax.
Dinkova's staging is a sensory delight. The efficient set, designed by Barret Doyle and Joel Coady, is spare - minimalist wooden frames that support a hammock and a swing, a frame that houses the illusory scenes from Constance's imagination, and a dock that extends into the lake behind the action of the play. It's the perfect canvas for Maranda Debusk's extraordinary lighting and Azul's exotic music, which both do a beautiful job of creating the otherworldly quality of illusion and of distinguishing it from the oppressive reality of the lake estate. In their turn, An-Lin Dauber's costumes, especially those that create the monsters of the world of illusion, are, at once, ethereal and horrific. The whole thing, complete with a pyrotechnic spectacle that sets a microphone ablaze, is beautifully drawn.
The talented cast is mostly up to the task of minimizing the problems with the bulky dialogue. Especially worthy of note are the performances of Park Krausen in the role of Irina, the aging actress, and Lee Osorio in the role of Boris, Irina's lover. Krausen brings a good deal of charming, silly humor to the play with her delightful flare for the dramatic, creating a sense for the audience that it's okay to laugh, and that's something, in this tonally- meandering production, that one could need help with. Osorio, in contrast to Krausen, plays his Boris straight-up, and his ability to deliver weighty Chekhov leftovers with the same authenticity with which he delivers lines like "F*&k. Sh*t. Sorry" helps to ground us in the world of the play, a problematic world that makes playful references to Stephen King and Tennessee Williams and Elvis Presley with great self-satisfaction, forcing us into a time and space that much of the language doesn't support.
There is a moment in the play where a horned monster dances behind a shimmery curtain while light bounces off of it, illuminating the faces of the spectators in the first several rows as they gape at the spectacle. It's a moment that I could watch over and over for its horrifying beauty. And this play has many moments like that. But, in the end, it's hard to carry the heartbreak of the characters away from the theater and into that beautiful space where a collective human experience is stored like a valuable gem. It's almost there. But not quite.
The Seagull plays through September 30.
For tickets and info, visit www.serenbeplayhouse.com