The Seagull: Theater of Polite but Dead Language


Out with the samovar, in with the Irish folk tunes! We need new forms! In keeping with the make-it-revolutionary spirit of Anton Chekhov’s tormented young artist character Constantine, Culture Project’s adaptation of The Seagull puts the classic in a different light. Director Max Stafford-Clark and adaptor Thomas Kilroy have moved Chekhov’s iconic Russian country estate in the west of Ireland, an attempt to build on some intellectually interesting 19th-century social parallels (serfdom and famine precipitating revolutions). In the best scenes, this choice is merely inconspicuous within an utterly conventional, stiff staging. More often, however, the Irish setting steers the drama exactly where it doesn’t want to go—into the Victorian tea parlor, where it transforms into an embarrassingly melodramatic comedy of manners.

Alan Cox, playing the successful but discontent author Mr. Aston (Trigorin in Chekhov’s original), has a successful scene of schadenfreude with the smitten would-be actress Lily (Rachel Spencer Hewitt). But in relocating from soulful Russia to the rural reaches of the Emerald Isle, the play turns out flattened—not helped by belabored accents and some perfunctory supporting performances. The rhythm and poetic dimensions vanish, and the characters’ impassioned affects don’t make sense. As Constantine might have lamented in one of his rants about the stage, we’re left with a theater of polite but dead language.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2013

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