Thursday, September 13, 2007

A 3 Act Set-Up For Nina's Knockdown


--or as they call it in English class, The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. It all rests on Nina's shoulders, and if the actress with those shoulders takes her vision of the character from her line in the final scene about how awful it is not to know what to do with your hands while you're onstage, then you've been watching the Royal Shakespeare production at BAM this week. In a performance that makes you yearn for Blythe Danner (or even Gwyneth Paltrow), Romola Garai pretty much makes you want to slap her, or at least wish that someone on stage would tell her that "young and awkward" doesn't mean waving her arms all the time.

Which is a pity, because the rest of the production is wonderful, and in one way at least better than the concurrently-running King Lear. In Lear you get the sense that the little moments are being sacrificed for the set scenes, especially in McKellen's performance; in Seagull, there are little moments everywhere. And in a version that's more adaptation than translation, it's truly a comedy, which makes the serious moments even sadder. Nobody's happy in this play, from Monica Dolan's vodka-swigging Masha to Frances Barber's gloriously monstrous Arkadina, a performance that makes you wonder if Billy Wilder owes Chekhov royalties for creating Norma Desmond.

So it's a shame that, in Act Four, which is supposed to happen two years after the end of Act Three, Nina acts as if she just spent two minutes changing clothes rather than twenty-four months learning hard lessons about life and herself. In a scene that should make you realize that Chekhov sure knew him some young actresses (and then realize that Chekhov sure had it up to here with young actresses), all you get is what you've seen before. It should be heartbreaking. It should be stunning. It shouldn't make you think of snarky jokes. It shouldn't make you want to reply to Nina declaring "I am the Seagull!" by yelling "No--the Seagull was Paul!" It should make you want to commit suicide. And it doesn't.

1 comment:

Emanuele said...

Well written article.