Goodman’s emotionally dense ‘The Seagull’ goes back to basics

Arkadina (Mary Beth Fisher) passes the afternoon on the family’s estate with Dr. Dorn (Scott Jaeck) as the cast of Robert Fall’s production of “The Seagull” looks on.

Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull is a play about actors and artists. Fitting that Robert Fall’s stirring and intimate production is stripped of any flashy theatrics or production values, and focuses entirely on the artistry of acting.

The show starts with the cast casually walking onto the starkly set stage and sitting on benches in the back. House lights are still up, and the play begins. At the heart of the story, we have Konstantin (Stephen Louis Grush) a brooding young fellow who’s struggling to find his own voice as a writer outside the shadow of his popular — and grandly theatrical — stage actress mother, Arkadina (Mary Beth Fisher). Arkadina clings to successful and esteemed writer Trigorin (Cliff Chamberlain), which infuriates Konstantin, as he detests the elite literary echelon his mother and Trigorin belong to. Meanwhile, Konstantin is in love with Nina (Heather Wood), a young dreamer who wants to be an actress, but Nina has eyes for Trigorin.

This is very much an ensemble piece, and Falls has spent seven weeks of rehearsal time (an unheard of amount in professional theatre) in character development and building a cohesive ensemble — and the work certainly shows. The relationships run rich and deep, and when Arkadia spitefully calls her son a “non-entity,” the reaction by Grush is soul-crushing. This is a love/hate relationship for the ages.

While the entire cast is fierce, Fisher is giving the performance of her career here. Her Arkadia is insecure, selfish, guilt-ridden and brimming with theatrical illusion. And, because Falls has contemporised the piece, setting it in what appears to be modern day Russia, she’s instantly recognizable and relatable. In fact, she’s eerily reminiscent of a family member of mine (I won’t say who to protect the innocent).

While I loved this production, the penultimate scene between Wood and Grush could be tightened. At the performance I attended, Wood’s final monologue was oddly paced, and she kept knocking over props in the middle of the room with her feet, which at one point sent a bottle rolling down the steeply raked stage, nearly crashing into an unsuspecting lap.

But that’s so minor when you consider the overall impact. Falls’ production feels as fresh and vibrant as an ocean breeze blowing across a Russian country estate. Highly recommended.

“The Seagull” plays through Nov. 21 at The Goodman’s Owen Theatre. More info here >

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