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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at CSC

By Bill Stevenson

  Dianne Wiest & Alan Cumming/PH: Joan Marcus

Moody and often melancholic, the CSC's staging of The Seagull emphasizes the somber side of Chekhov's tragicomedy. That's not to say that there aren't comic moments, because director Viacheslav Dolgachev and his cast do bring out the play's humor. Earning the heartiest laughs is two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest as the vain, self-absorbed actress Irina Arkadina. Wiest may be too old for the part, but she contributes star quality and boundless energy to an often sluggishly paced production.

An attention-hogging diva, Arkadina is visiting the country house of her brother, Pyotr Sorin ( John Christopher Jones). she brings along her younger lover, the famous writer Boris Trigorin ( Alan Cumming). Her son Konstantin ( Ryan O' Nan), also an aspiring writer, stages a play starring Nina ( Kelli Garner), a pretty neighbor who has acting ambitions. Arkadina mocks the play, and Konstantin abruptly brings down the curtain.

Dolgachev, former director of the Moscow Art Theatre and currently artistic director of the Moscow New Drama Theatre, finds the right balance of humor and pathos and stages the group scenes well. At times, however, he has actors turn their backs to the audience, and many of the actors-particularly O'Nan- speak so quietly that it's difficult to hear them. O'Nan could use a lesson in vocal projection from the commanding Wiest or David Rasche, who lends fine support as the local doctor Yevgeny Dorn.

Together with set designer Santo Loquasto and lighting director Brian MacDevitt, dolgachev creates lovely images with shimmery curtains, candles in lanterns, and soft lighting. The look of the production perfectly matches the wistful tone. But the director's decision to place Konstantin's makeshift theater downstage, where it blocks some in the audience, is distracting. Jorge Muelle's sound effects, ranging from an ominous humming sound to trickling water, are distracting as well.

Those are minor flaws, but the production's biggest problem is that many of the scenes drag. Due to the often glacial pacing, including numerous drawn-out pauses, this Seagull clocks in at three hours. That's about 15 minutes longer than it needs to be.

On the plus side, Cumming has a few droll moments, and it's nice to see film and TV veteran Annette O'Toole on stage. She plays Paulina Andreyevna- wife of farm manager Shamrayev ( Bill Christ)- and O'Toole wordlessly expresses Paulina's exasperation with her foulmouthed husband. As Masha, Marjan Neshat is perhaps too understated, and Greg Keller is similarly low-key as the schoolteacher Masha settles for because Konstantin ignores her. Ryan Hornchick rounds out the cast as hired hand Yakov.

Whenever she's around, though, Wiest's actressy actress steals the show. she's at her most winning when Arkadina brags about how much fitter she is than the young but mopey Masha. After flitting about to show off the spring in her step, Arkadina feels a slight twinge in her back. It's a priceless moment. Unfortunately, the production as a whole could use more of the energy, wit , and theatricality , that Wiest displays in that inspired comic bit.


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