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Arts & Entertainment
The Seagull at the Walter Kerr Theatre
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
September 18, 2008 
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It’s night in a forest in Russia. There are candles burning on tree stumps and roughhewn benches. Amidst a stand of trees, there’s a young man, as slender as the bare trees around him. The mood is elegiac, and yet, with the sound of animated voices approaching through the woods, also anticipatory. Such is Chekhov: rueful, though not without hope, as if to say: This is life; we must endure with humor. And make no mistake; there is much amusement to be found in the Royal Court’s critically acclaimed production of The Seagull, now transferred to the Walter Kerr.

In Chekhov’s world, there are those who suffer—and those who suffer more. Everyone in The Seagull is so caught up in the drama of his/her own life, seeking an ear wherever one can be found—to unload, to complain, to self-aggrandize. For the truth is, everyone in The Seagull is an actor, nearly always performing on a stage of his or her own imagining. These are characters who seem possessed of an unwavering belief that every life merits a full-length play. And the marvel of Chekhov’s tragicomedy (and for this production, Christopher Hampton’s new version) is how even the supporting characters are rendered fully imagined—and fully desirous of their own center stage monologue.

But then that’s to be expected, given that every character in The Seagull orbits in the incandescence that is the actress Arkadina. And while it’s likely that Kristin Scott-Thomas is the draw for a significant part of the audience, her Arkadina does not monopolize a viewer’s attention at the expense of the other players. Scott-Thomas’s portrayal offers a woman in poignant denial of her imminent eclipse, as she rallies her wiles and talents in an effort to stave off the inevitable. For as the once-illustrious Arkadina knows all too well, the light changes—and adjustments must be made.
Skillfully directed by Ian Rickson, this Seagull has flown almost completely intact from its London run, thereby lending an additional layer of camaraderie amongst the actors—that is, save for new-to-the-family Peter Sarsgaard who plays the outsider, Trigorin. Perhaps then it’s fitting that Sarsgaard employs a broad American accent, whilst everyone around him sounds a product of Rugby and Eton—yet it proves to be a discomfiting choice for some in the audience, several of whom spent the entirety of intermission unable to speak of anything else.
The truth is, as played by Sarsgaard, Trigorin hardly seems to possess the attributes ascribed to him by both Arkadina and Nina—a situation that leaves a large hole in this production, and one is grateful for the scenes where Trigorin is offstage. For it’s then that one sees a Seagull that beautifully mines the humor in the inherent promise of life’s dreams—and the poignancy in their passing.