Friday, October 03, 2008

Did Seagull Revival Soar With Critics?

Did Seagull Revival Soar With Critics?

Last evening, the seventh Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, with fresh translation from the reigning king of adaptations Christopher Hampton, opened at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre.

The 14-week limited engagement stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard in their Broadway debuts, alongside Mackenzie Crook, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan under the direction of Ian Rickson. Most critics gave high marks to the production, even if a number of them took issue with the performance of Sarsgaard.

Heralding this as a "magnificent production," The New York Times' Ben Brantley rhapsodically hurls superlatives: "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... [T]his Seagull has only ripened and deepened.... And Ms. Scott Thomas, who was excellent as the aging actress Arkadina in London, here delivers a magnified, intensified performance that more than ever is the keystone to understanding this play."

Nearly equal in his praise is New York Post's Clive Barnes, who offers up a rare four out of four star review: "Scott Thomas is an actor who doesn't act. Rather, she moves into a character, breathing the same air as a human reality. It's a style heaven-sent for the plays and people of Anton Chekhov, as she's now demonstrating as Arkadina, the overbloomed actress who sweeps her way through The Seagull in the wonderfully subtle production that opened last night.... [H]ere 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."

Labeling The Seagull "powerful theater," is Variety's David Rooney, who is largely effusive "despite one casting choice that doesn't quite measure up": "Rarely is the writer's signature balance of humor, pathos and tragedy so exquisitely rendered or the modulation between them orchestrated so affectingly.... It's the anchoring naturalism brought even to this diva in chronic performance mode that makes Scott Thomas so transfixing.... [W]hile he does slowly reveal the opportunistic worm beneath the self-possessed surface, Sarsgaard appears to be struggling to get a read on his role for much of the play."

Noting how this "serene, soaring Seagull makes a 113-year-old story feel as fresh as a cool breeze," New York's Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz offers four out of five stars: "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. Less well-known, but no less phenomenal, is Carey Mulligan, who plays Nina and instantly captures your heart with her teary-eyed, exquisitely emotional portrayal. Mackenzie Crook seems to draw from a deep well of sadness as Konstantin, the experimental playwright hopelessly in love with her.... (Sarsgaard) is too lackadaisical, almost borderline lazy, to set off bright sparks."

Calling the revival "visually stark, emotionally luscious," Newsday's Linda Winer production offers a mostly positive review: "Most of the men are not as effective as the women, and not just because Chekhov wrote such wonderfully complicated women. Peter Sarsgaard ... plays Trigoran ... as puzzlingly effeminate and more than a little dull. Seagull may be the hardest of Chekhov's late plays to get right.... But Rickson and Scott Thomas find the exquisite balance between being idealistic about the arts and satirizing that idealism."

Concluding that "its uneven casting makes for a frustrating experience," USA Today's Elysa Gardner zeroes in on Sarsgaard in her two-and-a-half-star review: "If you're a fan of Chekhov's writing and Peter Sarsgaard's acting, you face a serious dilemma this fall.... Sadly, though, 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. Leading lady Kristin Scott Thomas ... is a witty, poignant Arkadina, revealing a nervous fragility in the fading thespian who lives with and clings to Trigorin. As the doomed ingénue Nina, who suffers even more for her lover's callousness, fellow West End import Carey Mulligan is equally lovely and moving, at once a fresh-faced foil and a worthy rival to the elegant but vulnerable Arkadina."

My own personal view comes closest to that expressed by Gardner. You can review my own abbreviated SOB Review by clicking here.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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