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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the BAM Harvey Theatre

By Robert Cashill

  Gerald Kyd and Romola Garai

In interviews, Ian McKellen has said that he considers the part of Sorin, in The Seagull, a bit of a break in between bouts with King Lear its Royal Shakespeare Company repertory partner as the RSC continues its world tour. (Its Brooklyn engagement ends Sept. 30 Minneapolis and Los Angeles are on the agenda before the company returns to England in November.) True, it's a small, largely comic role in Chekhov's moody masterwork, with a hairstyle that doesn't need to be changed for Bard nights and a wheelchair to convey him late in the performance. Furthermore, he and William Gaunt, his excellent Gloucester in Lear, alternate in the part.

But McKellen cannot be caught napping, even when Sorin is dozing. Alert as he and the rest of the ensemble are to the comic possibilities of the play-and under the sturdy direction of Trevor Nunn, these are not unexploited-the actor makes Sorin's final disappointment with life, as he slumps decrepitly in his chair, meaningful and true. Consistently underwhelmed by their glass half-empty lives, Chekhov's artists and dreamers exaggerate their stasis, then make rash, even suicidal decisions to escape endless harsh winters of the heart and soul. The final tableau of the piece devastates-the fates of the tortured Konstantin (Richard Goulding, superb) and Nina (the rising star of Kenneth Branagh's BBC/HBO production of As You Like It, and the forthcoming film of Atonement, Romola Garai) are sealed, the oblivious laughter of Sorin's grand dame sister Arkadina (the restless, pitiless Frances Barber) in the shadows rings out, and there to the side is the forlorn Sorin, who, barely breathing, represents the consequences of underreaching.

And yet much of the production is genuinely funny. Monica Dolan's first words as Masha, the unforgettable I'm in mourning for my life hit exactly the right note of comic overstatement, and Nunn and company get to work on whittling these outsized-seeming personalities down to fragile human size over the next three hours, which are strongly paced. Curiously, Lear has a more Russian look and feel than this quintessentially Russian play, as if the decision were made to link the two visually but to spend more lavishly on the king and not the subjects. That said, set designer Christopher Oram , lighting designer Neil Austin, and sound designer Fergus O' Hare , all of whom ply their trades more spectacularly on Shakespeare, respond with clean, stripped-to-the-essentials work. As does its brightest star, here a featured player and in repose, yes, but not resting on his laurels.


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