Only about once—maybe twice—a year does a production come along that makes me feel as if I’ve been ignited from the inside out. It takes a special kind of vision—along with all the different theatrical stars lining up just right—to turn a long and (forgive me) boring Chekhov play into the most riveting, seductive, and inspired production of the season.
With The Seagull, running at Needham’s Arlekin Players Theatre through Dec 8, director Igor Golyak has managed to do just that. With a new translation by Ryan McKittrick, Julia Smeliansky, and Laurence Senelick, this isn’t your grandfather’s Seagull, and it sure as hell isn’t the one you studied in college, either. The action of the play is broken up by Golyak himself reading pieces of Chekhov’s own letters, many of them calling into question the validity—or lack thereof—of his art, something that Golyak’s bold, daring, symbolist production is likely to do for many.
Disillusionment, desperation, and a healthy dose of depression follow the creatures that inhabit the play: Aging actress Irina (a ferocious Anne Gottlieb), along with her tortured writer-lover Trigorin (the always brilliant Nael Nacer) and her tortured writer-son Konstantin (Eliott Purcell, mesmerizing), all converge at the countryside estate of Irina’s brother, the sickly Sorin (Dev Luthra). They’re all unhappy and all long for something they don’t—or can’t—have. Throw in a few love triangles, some generalized dread, and musings about art, and that’s The Seagull in a nutshell.
But Golyak has a few tricks up his sleeve—from a prologue that portrays him as the playwright giving birth to a red-hot script and casting his play by pulling illuminated orbs out of the sand, to the immersive and flagrantly unusual design that ranks among the most thrilling I’ve ever seen (the sets are by Nikolay Simonov; the costumes by Nastya Bugaeva; the lighting by Jeff Adelberg). There’s lots of sand in this production, which is fitting given that Arlekin’s tiny playing space has literally been transformed into Golyak’s sandbox. And some of this Seagull does feels like playtime—it’s incredibly mischievous, twisted, and hilarious—and the clarity of the plot is often eschewed in favor of highly stylized staging and visuals. But it’s hard to argue with visuals this gorgeous, staging this clever, and performances this electrifying.
I have always found The Seagull to be a bit cold and emotionally distant, but with the action of this production never occurring more than a few feet from the audience—and real human emotions happening nearly in our laps—it’s impossible not to feel deeply. In one scene in Act 3, a bruised and desperate Irina begs Trigorin not to leave her. The fury and desperation of Gottlieb, matched by Nacer desperately trying to swallow his pain, is one of the most flawlessly acted slivers of theater I’ve ever seen. This is just one of a handful of similar moments that this Seagull is full of. In addition, Darya Denisova puts a great comedic spin on Masha, and Irina Bordian brings a damaged loveliness to Nina.
Heart-stopping and cinematic, Arlekin’s The Seagull must be seen to be believed.
THE SEAGULL. THROUGH 12.8 AT ARLEKIN PLAYERS THEATRE, 368 HILLSIDE AVE., NEEDHAM. ARLEKINPLAYERS.COM