Friday, October 3, 2008

The Seagull


By Anton Chekhov. Dir. Ian Rickson. Walter Kerr Theatre. (CLOSED)

This London-imported production of the Chekhovian chestnut drew ecstatic reviews from many critics, particularly for the performances of Kristin Scott Thomas as Arkadina and Carey Mulligan as Nina. Many critics were left cold by Peter Sarsgaard, an American addition to the cast as Trigorin, and a number of critics dissented—some vehemently—from the general praise for Rickson's production and Christopher Hampton's adaptation.

New York Times A+
(Ben Brantley) Brought to life by a superlative ensemble led by Kristin Scott Thomas, the thwarted souls of The Seagull are as self-revealing in frozen speechlessness as they are in frantic flights of conversation...The careful cultivation of such transparency, to the point that we feel instinctively tuned into the minds of every individual onstage, helps to make this Seagull the finest and most fully involving production of Chekhov that I have ever known...It is, to make honest use of the language of hucksters, a limited, once-in-a-lifetime offer.

(Michael Kuchwara) A revelation. There have been several productions of The Seagull in New York within the last year or so but none has had the clarity and emotional impact of Christopher Hampton's new translation. Hampton's crisp, clean adaptation lays the groundwork for director Ian Rickson's uncommonly lucid revival.

Chicago Tribune A+
(Chris Jones) One of those rare shows that make you feel like you're experiencing a great play working better than you've ever seen it work before...The stage brims with fascinating performances, including a dazzling turn from Kristin Scott Thomas as Arkadina, the mother from hell...As Konstantin, Mackenzie deliciously neurotic even as Peter Sarsgaard...finds new levels of self-loathing in Trigorin. When you add Zoe Kazan's Goth Masha and a heartbreaking Nina from the newcomer Carey Mulligan, this Seagull will be a tough revival to better.

Philadelphia Inquirer A+
(Toby Zinman) This magnificent production of The Seagull, transferred from London to Broadway, gets it absolutely and thrillingly right...The ensemble acting magically includes us—we feel that we're in the house, part of the family—holding the audience hushed, except for laughter, and rapt for nearly three hours.

The New Yorker A
(John Lahr) When this production was mounted in London—it was [Ian] Rickson's swan song at the Royal Court, after nine years as its artistic director—the English newspapers generally agreed that it was the best Seagull in living memory. Even though the size of the Walter Kerr Theatre mutes the intimacy of the original production, Rickson factors out Chekhov's algebra of aimlessness with extraordinary nuance. The evening, and the ensemble's achievement, is remarkable.

NY Times A
(Charles Isherwood) The production strikes a consistently bleak note...The somber palette, the eerie, shuddering music and the echoing silences between speeches subtly underscore the play's proto-existentialist underpinnings...No production I've seen contains so many fully rounded portraits.

The Journal News A
(Jacques Le Sourd) The word for the new production of The Seagull on Broadway is lucid. That's a trickier accomplishment than you might think...[Carey] Mulligan's intense and beautifully wounded performance [as Nina] is one of the riveting gems of this production. You won't soon forget it.

NY Post A
(Clive Barnes) This is a play about thrown-away lives and spiritual emptiness, and here it's staged with natural fluency by Ian Rickson, with an elegant new adaptation by Christopher Hampton that sounds as though it were written the day before yesterday.

Daily News A
(Joe Dziemianowicz) With its crisp, conversational script by Christopher Hampton and graceful, steady-handed direction by Ian Rickson...the production is as stirring as it is entertaining...As the aging theater diva Arkadina, [Kristin ]Scott Thomas is sly-eyed, sharp-tongued and sure-footed (a little sprightly scampering proves her vigor) and holds you rapt while just standing motionless. In short, she's heaven in her Broadway debut.

Theatermania A
(David Finkle) Kristin Scott Thomas['s] interpretation of mercurial middle-aged actress Arkadina is its own thrilling fireworks display...While Scott Thomas' success is somewhat expected, given her film and stage pedigree, Carey Mulligan's stunning turn as the impressionable and eventually destroyed Nina arrives less heralded...Rickson derives nuanced portrayals from the entire ensemble.

Hartford Courant A
(Malcolm Johnson) The Seagull has enjoyed a vogue of late with star-strewn revivals. But the new arrival at the Walter Kerr Theatre outclasses them all, with the truly brilliant Kristin Scott Thomas heading the cast....A nearly ideal version of the first of Anton Chekhov's final four masterpieces, largely because of the new adaptation by Christopher Hampton. The cast comes mostly from the Royal Court, with a few Americans, but Ian Rickson has seamlessly blended the ensemble.

Newsday A-
(Linda Winer) How thrilling, finally, to have a version of The Seagull that understands why we cherish Anton Chekhov. After two awful revivals here this year alone...the 1895 tragicomedy of lovesick artists and artless loves arrives from London with most of Ian Rickson's visually stark, emotionally luscious production intact.

Variety A-
(David Rooney) Rarely is the writer's signature balance of humor, pathos and tragedy so exquisitely rendered or the modulation between them orchestrated so affectingly. Despite one casting choice that doesn't quite measure up, this is powerful theater...Still, one uncertain characterization in a panorama of so many full-bodied, revelatory ones does little to dull the incandescence or the overwhelming emotional impact of this illuminating production.

Theater News Online A-
(Sandy McDonald) Newly grafted onto the mostly London-original cast, Sarsgaard, sorry to say, is a cypher [sic] so far: more complacent than smug, and sexually null...That said, is this one of those life-list productions that demand to be seen? Unreservedly, yes.

The Hollywood Reporter A-
(Frank Scheck) The Royal Court Theatre's production of The Seagull has flown triumphantly from London to New York with most of its acclaimed cast intact. This beautifully modulated revival of Chekhov's classic, presented in a new version by playwright Christopher Hampton...and starring Kristin Scott Thomas in her belated New York stage debut, figures to be the snob theatre event of Broadway's fall season.

North Jersey Record B+
(Robert Feldberg) The flaws are disappointing, but far from fatal, in an often terrific theatrical experience...I've never seen another production...that was so immediate and alive, so rich in its exploration of the characters...The main newcomers to the cast are [Peter] Sarsgaard and [Zoe] Kazan, and they stick out like sore thumbs.

New York B
(Dan Kois) This Seagull...has its share of stars, with Kristin Scott Thomas reprising her acclaimed Arkadina and Peter Sarsgaard as Trigorin. But with both those performances hitting one note—Thomas's, expertly, the manic diva; Sarsgaard's, less so, a sort of beige beardiness—the real joys are in the supporting cast...Ian Rickson's direction is attentive throughout, and occasionally inspired.

Time Out NY B
(Adam Feldman) The complex romantic ecology of The Seagull requires unusually strong ensemble acting, which Ian Rickson's production...apparently boasted in London last year. On Broadway, the cast is less secure. The English transfers are generally strong, but some of the Americans struggle—notably Peter Sarsgaard.

Talkin' Broadway B-
(Matthew Murray) "The Seagull, like so many of Chekhov's works, thrives on the relativistic concerns surrounding time's unforgiving nature. This production's nimble new version of the text, by Christopher Hampton, crystallizes this for modern audiences...Portions of this production stand as among the most inventive reconsiderations of the work to hit New York stages in quite a while. Purists, however, may balk at some of the new avenues revealed by Rickson and his company as a result of Hampton's and Scott Thomas's youthening of the play.

Back Stage C+
(David Sheward) Under [Ian Rickson's] guidance, the repressed souls on Sorin's country estate...barely conceal their roiling emotions as they either languidly recline or contort themselves into pretzel shapes of anguish. Rickson has emphasized the pain of love and artistic creation, forgetting Chekhov celebrated its pleasures as well. There is lively staging and powerful acting, but the joy is missing. These people don't even seem to have any affection for each other, an essential element of the author's vision.

USA Today C+
(Elysa Gardner) Sarsgaard doesn't rise to the challenges confronting him any more than his complex and crucial character does. It might be an overstatement to say that his curiously awkward, lackluster performance fatally wounds this Seagull...but only a slight one...That's a shame, because the other legs in Trigorin's romantic triangle could hardly be sturdier.

Wall Street Journal C
(Terry Teachout) This is a very British Seagull, but not in the pale, old-fashioned way: I've never seen a production of The Seagull that was played so successfully, even relentlessly, for laughs...Compared with the Classic Stage Company's recent Off-Broadway Seagull, which was as intimate as it was immediate, this production struck me as both too big and (so to speak) too noisy.

Bloomberg News C-
(John Simon) The acting is mostly good, though the casting and direction are questionable. The women are either exaggerated or misrepresented: The always fascinating Scott Thomas is prodded into an Arkadina even more actressy than the text already calls for...Director Ian Rickson's pacing, alternating between hyperactivity (a lot of bustle) and inertia (inordinate pauses) detracts from the prescribed conventionality.

amNew York C-
(Matt Windman) With the exceptions of Ms. Thomas and the similarly eccentric and lively Zoe Kazan as Masha, this Seagull lacks theatricality and ensemble chemistry. And more often than not, it feels dull, quiet and slow...Decent but rather lame and extremely over-praised.

NJ Star-Ledger D
(Michael Sommers) Perhaps I'm merely sick of seeing so many revivals, but this particular dish doesn't satisfy...Bleak in visuals and chilly in manner, there is little beauty and no charm to Rickson's grim interpretation of Christopher Hampton's neatly composed text...All piercing eyes and sharp features, Thomas is an energetic Arkadina who whirls off into little dramatic flurries indicating the diva's it's-all-about-me nature...None of the other actors make much of an impression other than Zoe Kazan, whose restless Masha seems not so much mournful about her life as irritated by the dreary household.

Village Voice F
(Michael Feingold) I can't remember ever seeing a duller or more pointlessly misguided rendition of this frequently staged play...Chekhov's world has rarely seemed more remote, his dramaturgy more stilted. Stanislavsky, come back—all is forgiven.

New York Times A+ 14; AP A+ 14; Chicago Tribune A+ 14; Philadelphia Inquirer A+ 14; NY Times A 13; The New Yorker A 13; The Journal News A 13; Daily News A 13; Daily News A 13; Theatermania A 13; Hartford Courant A 13; Newsday A- 12; Variety A- 12; Theater News Online A- 12; The Hollywood Reporter A- 12; North Jersey Record B+ 11; New York B 10; Time Out NY B 10; Talkin' Broadway B- 9; Back Stage C+ 8; USA Today C+ 8; Wall Street Journal C 7; Bloomberg News C- 6; amNew York C- 6; NJ Star-Ledger D 5; Village Voice F 1; TOTAL: 276 / 26 = 10.6 B+

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