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Does Art Imitate Life, or Does Life Imitate Art ?
Written, edited, and coded into HTML
by Stephen C. Sanders August 19, 2001.
Copyright ©2001 by Stephen C. Sanders
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The Setting: Central Park August 18, 2001

Firstly I must say that the free performance including such known stars as Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline was both entertaining as well as thought provoking. The play is well worth seeing, especially for its price, but is it worth standing on line all night, read on.
The bare bone synapses of the play:
The play is a about a struggling writer named Treplev Konstantin Garvilovch, The character Konstantin was well played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Konstantin (according to the script page 5, By Tom Stoppard) is 25 years old, however acts as if he is troubled adolescent, possibly a virgin, definitely manic or at least seriously depressed. He holds the unrealistic idealism of a troubled youth, as well as a serious view of the art of the play. The Seagull was first performed at the Royal Theatre, Glasgow, in 1909.

Konstantin is struggling to develop his own writing style, is unknown, broke, loveless worshipping another character Nina (played by Natalie Portman) from afar. Konstantin is also greatly troubled with regards to his codependent relationship with his mother, Arkadina (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) who is obsessed with her own fame, notoriety, vanishing youth, and voracious sexual appetite.

One of Konstantin's greatest fears is that he is truly worthless and insignificant. He knows that his mother has outward contempt for him. Konstantin's obsession with his mother and her opinion of him is almost comparable to the classic Greek play Oedipus the King. While it appears that he has nothing for contempt for his mother, and all that she stands for, he apparently is trying to win his mothers love and stages a performance, casting his young protégé, Nina in a dark sardonic look at life 200,000 years from now.

It is within this play within a play that the dramatic action of the Seagull by Anton Chekhov unfolds.

The Review, Dare I do this ? Who am I a mere plebian, with merely a few rubles in my bank account take it upon myself to critique the great Anton Chekhov and his highly autobiographical play The Seagull. Shall I "...defy the monopoly.." and review the performance of such on screen titans like Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Yes I will and, and in the tradition of the critic I will be blunt, and cutting as I see fit.

Firstly the play within a play as written by Chekhov, was meant to be a flop. The lines of Nina as read by Natalie Portman, became kind of funny simply due their tautology, and the robotic movements as Natalie Portman portrayed Nina in a white coat. The image was akin to the ghost of Christmas past, or perhaps the future Eve (as in Adam and Eve.). She did not even move from the proscenium until the devil, approached. Natalie Portman utilized her solo moment of focus on stage well, perhaps sensing the audience was looking for a few laughs, went with the moment getting her fair share of heartfelt belly laughs. Prior to this, the audience merely giggled when Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Konstantin, the protagonist) fell out of character on at least two occasions.

The notable occasion being when he caressed the proscenium and stated "this stage..." and started laughing to himself ! Where was he in the script, I didn't know (still don't) did he ? I seem to recall his earlier flubbed line was that the Elm tree (pg8) looked dark because it "was dead", the line delivered in a deadpan fashion, kind of mocking his beloved Nina at the same time losing his character of Konstantin the illusionist, to Konstantin the sarcastic. In my opinion this was when last night's live performance of The Seagull, started slipping from being a cold dark "realism" highbrow type play, to perhaps a sardonic tragic comedy, that could appeal to the masses. If it sounds like I'm being Hypercritical here, forgive me. I feel that it was the adlibs, and the innovations that made last nights performance the play which Chekhov would have loved to have watched. The pointed digs which Chekhov had taken even at his own work, would have been uprooted by the life which this group of players breathed into their individual characters.

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Meryl Streep was fabulous, she became the character, as she crossed the stage as Arkadina in the middle of her son's masterpiece and said "is something burning, oh is that part of it" The line was "I can smell sulphur-is that part of it" (Arkadina pg 13). The audience responded with laughter, yes Meryl Streep was Arkadina at the moment causing the audience to laugh in the middle of Chekhov's character's Konstantin's dark surrealistic "new genre" type "experimental" theater complete with aroma to engage all five senses. and the rest. Can she do that, ad lib with the great Anton Chekhov ? Did she change the plays genre from Chekhov's dark sardonic autobiographical self-aggrandizing play to comedy. Did she know the piece understand the depth of Chekhov ? Who is she to do that !? The answers yes, maybe and definitely yes ! And as for who is she to do that, She is Meryl Streep, in a plum of a role to play. A true mistress of her trade, and having fun with it !

As for Chekhov, is he turning in his grave right now ! No, he must be wishing he wrote it that way. I don't even believe Meryl Streep's stage cross was rehearsed; it totally fitted in the context of the play. She conveyed the message that Chekhov was trying to portray. Konstantin must have been a representation of the young unknown broke and penniless Anton Chekhov, and as for the character of Trigorin (played in by Kevin Kline) another representation of Chekhov himself. What is the play the Seagull really about ? It is about Chekhov, and his two greatest critics, his mother and himself. Must we endure Chekhov's misery to truly enjoy this play ? Of course not we are here to be entertained, as well as being provoked into thought. Meryl Streep proved that, on Saturday August 18,2001, at the beginning of act two.

The character which Chekhov created in Arkadina (Meryl Streep) was the mother of 25 year old boy. The mother was cunning, attractive, self absorbed, vain..and the rest. Obviously Arkadina the actress came first before Arkadina the mother. Understanding this can help you realize why Konstantin was so screwed up. Konstantin the character, has some understanding of this himself, but is trying to fix something which cannot be fixed. Chekhov has created a life and death struggle between a boy and his mother. The stakes are high ! Who owns this play, is it the writer, or the actress. Now, lets go to act two.

Act Two: Arkadina has just asked Masha (played by Marcia Gay Harden) to stand up next to her. "Your twenty-two and I'm nearly twice that ...which of us looks Younger" (Arkadina pg 22). After Arkadina elicits the proper answer from the country doctor Dorn (played by Larry Pine), Meryl Streep launches into her speech about how she maintains her youth. "The reason I am in this remarkable state of preservation is that I refuse to ...let myself go...look!-you see ?" Meryl Streep did a cartwheel, live onstage, again steeling the show. This writer cannot be sure if that was an innovation, or something rehearsed. It is hard to imagine that an actress of the stature of Meryl Streep would be allowed by her accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents to rehearse and plan such a stunt. Even if it was rehearsed and planned its delivery made it appear to be a fresh, scene-stealing stunt. Yes, and that is all that counts in theater.

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Click here for a more detailed review by Mimi Kramer of The New York Press

Click here for a complete anthology of Anton P. Chekhov from the nyu.edu web page.

Are you a Meryl Streep fan. Click here for MSO (Meryl Streep Online) by Webmistress Myla Kent (her publicist ?) great coverage here folks really !

Natalie Portman has a huge fan club on the web, here is one such message board.

Click here to read part two of my review.

See the many comments that Portman Fans have regarding America Attacked!

Want to know how old Meryl Streep is ? Click here...I was shocked..

This is a link to part three !

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