There appears to be enough Seagull's in flight to alarm Alfred Hitchcock. We had the Royal Shakespeare Company from Great Britain at BAM last fall starring Ian McKellen as a tottering Sorin, and in May Emily Mann's new freely adapted A Seagull in the Hamptons will roost at McCarter Theater in Princeton. For the present the Classic Stage Company in Gotham's lower Eastside has mounted a disarming take on The Seagull, the first of Anton Chekhov's four masterpieces.
The production has been staged by Viacheslav Dolgachev, former director of the Moscow Art Theater,who has captured the plays slow inner rhythms, the grace of the author's structure and the intrinsic melancholy moodiness. Most importantly he reminds the viewer that the play is a comedy at heart and the brittle barbs of the foolish Russian bourgeois gentry sparkle amid the strains of melancholy.
What makes this production so immensely satisfying is the keen ensemble work. Irina Arkadina, the spoiled, selfish and temperamental actress is envisioned by Dianne Wiest , a resourceful player who brings a sense of theatrical grace to the role. Cool, mannered and flamboyant, Wiest has a devilish twinkle in her eye. Alan Cumming is Trigorin, the successful author who yearns for greatness, and he strolls about with an indifferent air of competent mediocrity. His harbored passion for a younger woman is revealed with skittish caution.
Arkadina's son Konstantin, the aspiring writer, is played by Ryan O'Nan with a restless moodiness. He jumps and darts around in the first act with unbridled verve and fervor. However, director Dolgachev has elected to stage Konstantin's final disillusionment much too sluggishly and it seriously weakens the plays last moments.
John Christopher Jones rattles his bones most effectively as the cheerfully embittered and ailing old Sorin, but it is difficult to erase the memory of McKellen's mastery in the role last fall. The unhappy lovelorn Masha is acted by Marjan Neshat with harnessed frustration
A pertly pretty Kelli Garner plays Nina, the intensely impressionable and passionate would-be actress and she balances a youthful radiance in her early scenes in marked contrast to the wallowing mis-spent passion in her return from Moscow. David Rasche offers a flippant account of the cynical doctor.
The set by Santo Loquasto with its white billowing curtains serves as an atmospheric backdrop. Suzy Benzinger's period costumes reflect 1896, the year Chekhov wrote the play. This Seagull doesn't exactly soar, but it has wings and a kind of airy grace.