BWW Review: Arlekin Players' THE SEAGULL: A Long, Strange Trip
An Original Adaptation
Written by Anton Chekhov, Directed by Igor Golyak; Composer, Jakov Jakoulov; Choreographer, Victor Plotnikov; Script Translation, Ryan McKittrick, Julia Smeliansky, Laurence Senelick; Scenic Design, Nikolay Simonov; Costume Design, Nastya Bugaeva; Lighting Design, Jeff Adelberg; Stage Manager, Madeline Hartrich; Props Master, Irina Vilenchik; Dramaturg, Blair Cadden
There's a comment on the Arlekin Players' Facebook page which says, "unlike any The Seagull you can ever imagine," and that about sums it up. I went in knowing the play and left wondering what the play was about. There is no question that the production is highly stylized, the staging imaginative, and the work of the ensemble stellar. However, even if one considers the character development to be more important than any of the events that occur in Anton Chekhov's story, too many elements feel like a combination of farce and fever dream to amount to a coherent interpretation of what's going on. In Director Igor Golyak's vision, The Seagull is framed by a group of people coming together to perform a play and spewing comments about the state of the theater taken from Chekhov's letters.
The playwright's themes of love, art, alienation, betrayal, family, and existential angst are all present in Golyak's version (script translation by Ryan McKittrick, Julia Smeliansky, and Laurence Senelick), but play as if they have been formatted into shuffle setting. Spanning an hour and forty-five minutes, the first act contains a mother lode of exposition that requires a lot of concentration to digest, while act two goes by in the blink of an eye at forty minutes. The performances of Anne Gottlieb (Irina Arkadina), Nael Nacer (Boris Trigorin), Eliott Purcell (Konstantin Treplev), and Irina Bordian (Nina Zarechnaya) enrich the characterizations and provide highlights. Supporting cast members Dev Luthra (Pyotr Sorin), Alexander Petetsky (Ilya Shamraev), Darya Denisova (Masha), Eric Andrews (Semyon Medvedenko), and Golyak (Director/Yevgeny Dorn) all do solid work.
Scenic designer Nikolay Simonov and lighting designer Jeff Adelberg craft a vivid and unique arena for the players. Situated in the middle of the black box with the audience facing each other on opposite sides of the room, the set actually moves forward and back at different times. A pair of doors are in constant use for comings and goings, two mesh curtains morph into a noose or a head cover, and a large circle of sand on the floor evokes the lakeside property where the action takes place. Costume designer Nastya Bugaeva leans toward a contemporary style with lots of black and leather, but includes bits and pieces of Slavic influences. Contributions by composer Jakov Jakoulov and choreographer Victor Plotnikov season the production. Kudos to props master Irina Vilenchik, especially for all the dead birds.
Arlekin Players Theatre has been a presence since 2009, and while operating out of their home base in Needham, the company has toured to New York, Chicago, Hartford, and several international festivals. Comprised of immigrants, their works are often performed in Russian, but The Seagull is primarily in English, with a smattering of Russian, French, Italian, and Spanish. This was my first experience with Arlekin Players and, despite my reaction to this adaptation and theatrical conceit, I expect to visit them again, to follow their journey outside of the box.