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The Seagull (Review)

Cincinnati Shakespeare production offers strong, intertwining performances

By Tom McElfresh · January 21st, 2009 · Onstage

Critic's Pick

Remembering how Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard earned a CEA for ensemble performance, it’s no surprise that a CSC production of The Seagull, also staged by Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips, deserves even more celebration. This show is stronger, more nuanced and more magical — a lovely whole crafted of lively parts.

Example: Sherman Fracher (CEA winner for Streetcar Named Desire and Bug) digs deep to illuminate the shallow egocentricity and bitchiness of fading actress Irina. How fiercely Irina needs to be the epicenter of everything. How subtly Fracher shows her to be peripheral.

Example: Justin McCombs has given full-depth performances before (Midsummer Night's Dream, Take Me Out at New Stage Collective. Here he etches a fully featured portrait of Konstantin, Irina’s shattered, maligned son. Needing much love, he gets little and precipitates disaster when he mindlessly kills a seagull, thereby creating the play’s core metaphor.

Example: In an inward and deceptively offhand performance, Matt Johnson explores the self-awareness and self-distaste of novelist Trigorin. He writes well enough but longs to write brilliantly and knows he never will. A quiet, revelatory drinking scene between Trigorin and Masha (Sara Clark) is as distinguished a moment of theater as CSC has ever offered. The characters speak so casually, sharing some things, hiding far, far more.

There are other strong, intertwining performances from Hayley Clark, Jim Hopkins and R. Chris Reeder (returning after a long absence), performing on a curiously surreal, wholly appropriate set by guest designer Matthew Hallock, with moody lighting by Sara Watson, nice costuming by Amanda McGee and a provocative supporting soundscape by Chris Guthrie.

Summer 1900. Irina’s family gathers. Half the characters hold secret letches for other characters, all end badly. Chekhov called his play a comedy. Yeah, right. Carefully, Phillips allows some laughter to flourish at the top of each act, and then carefully sets his actors to sandpapering each other.

THE SEAGULL, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Feb. 8. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays of the run, CSC presents The Nina Variations, which offers new endings for The Seagull and stars the Cincinnati Playhouse intern company. See more about that show here.



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