Thursday, February 4, 2021

461. THE SEAGULL (2 productions). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Roundabout Company recreating a famous photo of the Moscow Art Theatre being read the script of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, with director Gene Feist (up center) as Chekhov.

THE SEAGULL [Dramatic Revival] A: Anton Chekhov; AD/D: Gene Feist; S: Holmes Easley; C: Mimi Maxmen; L: John McClain; M: Philip Campanella; P: Roundabout Theatre Company; T: Roundabout Theatre (OB); 12/18/73-3/17/74 (105)

Delores Sutton, Tom Klunis.

This revival of Chekhov’s 1898 comedy-drama--one of several in the same time frame--coincided with the 75th anniversary of its original Moscow Art Theatre production. Roundabout Theatre’s founder, Gene Feist, directed it in his intimate arena theatre to an only moderately receptive press. Clive Barnes termed it a demonstration rather than an illumination of the text.

Chekhov’s complex, symbol-laden, atmospheric look at the lives of a frustrated would-be writer, Konstantin (Christopher Lloyd), his exuberantly theatrical mother, Arkadina (Delores Sutton), Arkadina’s novelist lover, Trigorin (Tom Klunis), and the object of both Konstantin and Trigorin’s affections, Nina (Linda De Coff), was staged with little interpretive originality. This led to what Barnes dismissed as a fairly “bland” presentation, despite a “good and exceptionally well-balanced” cast.

Walter Kerr, however, considered this a “generally interesting revival” in which he noticed how deliberately time passed without the clutter of the kind minutia often inserted to provide the play with a patina of naturalism. He and Barnes responded positively to Sutton’s Arkadina, but they had less respect for Klunis’s Trigorin. The Konstantin of Lloyd, gradually coming into his own as an important character actor, was “particularly impressive.”

Others on hand included Paula Laurence as Polina, Laura Esterman as Masha, and Robert Stattel as Medvedenko.


D: Andre Gregory; S: Ming Cho Lee; C: Nanzi Adzima; L: Victor En Yu Tan; P: Lyn Austin i/a/w the New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Public Theater, Martinson Hall (OB); 1/8/75-4/5/75 (42)

Note: no photo is immediately available for this production.

Experimental director Andre Gregory, who called his revival simply Sea Gull, staged it with his Manhattan Project company at the Public, where Joseph Papp supported it along with a company staging of Wallace Shawn’s Our Late Night. (Gregory and Shawn have shared a long history as collaborators.) 

The production moved Chekhov to the 1930s, incorporated such background music as “St. Louis Blues,” and used the device of a semi-environmental design in which the action was spread over three acting areas, to each of which the audience moved en masse when a new act began. 

The approach sought to scoop out the meanings and textures between the author’s lines by means of surprising gestures, behavior, and line readings. All of it was done in a very subdued, practically whispered manner, creating an effect of subtext, rather than the play proper, being performed.

The major weakness, averred Clive Barnes, was the “lack of cultural resonance and an avoidance of theatrical tradition.” He nevertheless found the evening worthwhile as a new approach to a classic. Walter Kerr, however, was dismayed at the inaudibility of the actors, and the monotony of the style. John Simon abandoned ship after one act because of what he deemed the inadequacy of this “troupe . . . most of whom are consummate nonentities in both talent and appearance.” 

Among the "nonentities" were Saskia Noordhoek Hegt as Arkadina, Larry Pine as Constantine, Angela Pietropinto as Nina, and Gerry Bamman as Trigorin.

There were two other, barely noticed, minor productions of The Seagull during the 1974-1975 season, one at the Cubiculo, directed by Philip Meister, which opened on December 11, 1974, for 11 performances. The other was directed by Joseph Chaikin for the Manhattan Theatre Club, opening on January 21, 1975, and compiling 24 performances. Leueen McGrath was Arkadina, Bernard Duffy was Konstantine, and Tina Shepard was Nina.