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The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Natalie Portman

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Natalie Portman.

Performance staged Saturday August 18, 2001,at The Joseph Papp Public Theater, Central Park, New York, New York.

Playing through Sunday August 26, 2001. No Monday performances ! If you want to see this free play, plan on standing in line all day on the day of the performance.

By Stephen C. Sanders atrexs61@yahoo.com, yes you can e-mail me if you like, you will see vze2mbqt@verizon.net pop into your mail to window, verizon will no longer allow their bandwidth to be used to send mail to free mail servers like yahoo !.)

This a part two of a two part review. The original review can be found at the following web site.
http://tiger_bythe_toe.tripod.com

At this site you will find links to both Meryl Streep, and Natalie Portman fan clubs as well as links to other works by Anton Chekhov including The Seagull.

First lets talk about the play a bit and the meta message that Chekhov was trying to portray. The Characters:

In this play we find various representations of the author himself. The country doctor (Chekhov was a physician) Dorn (played by Larry Pine) is extremely sympathetic to the character of Konstantin. While speaking of the play within the play Dorn said " There is something in it...something fresh and artless about it " (Anton Chekhov The Seagull, A New Version by Tom Stoppard-Dorn pg .18) Dorn showed genuine appreciation for Konstantin and and at least was trying to find good things to say about the play staged by Konstantin. The character of Dorn (Larry Pine) was one of a satisfied man, that did not harbor unspoken yearnings, yet this character was perhaps the only one in the play, who either understood Konstantin, or at least was trying to understand him, and recognized the raw untutored talent within Konstantinís writing.

The character of Dorn as played by Larry Pine came off in this performance as a good straight man, versus the character of Sorin (Christopher Walken) who seemed to get the lionís share of laughs. The character Sorin (Konstantinís uncle, retired government offficial and owner of the estate, as well as Arkadinaís brother) as played by Christopher Walken was never upstaged. This character was given (born with, endowed by his creator A. Chekhov, if you will) the most fully fleshed out and believable attributes.. Christopher Walken played the character with an easy grace and his delivery of Chekhovís immortal lines provided some much needed humor. Without this character, it is doubtful that this play would still be produced and enjoyed in the 21 st. century. Even with his back to the audience Christopher Walken filled the theater with laughter when he interupted the young plywrightís (Konstantinís) introduction of the play with his delivery of the lines " Two hundred thousand years from now thereíll be nothing." (Tom Stoppard, Sorin pg. 11)

Konstantin (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is young writer, a twenty-five year old boy, searching for his own identity and style in his writing. To understand Chekhov's The Seagull it is useful to view Konstantin as a young unknown version of Chekhov himself. It is possible to also view Konstantin as a representative of any man (or perhaps everyman) who is discontented either as a writer, artist, or simply one who is trying to find their own meaning in their work or in their life.

The character of Dorn as played by Larry Pine came off in this performance as a good straight man, versus the character of Sorin (Christopher Walken) who seemed to get the lionís share of laughs. The character Sorin (Konstantinís uncle, retired government offficial and owner of the estate, as well as Arkadinaís brother) as played by Christopher Walken was never upstaged. This character was given (born with, endowed by his creator A. Chekhov, if you will) the most fully fleshed out and believable attributes. Christopher Walken played the character with an easy grace and his delivery of Chekhovís immortal lines provided some much needed humor. Without this character, it is doubtful that this play would still be produced and enjoyed in the 21 st. century. Even with his back to the audience Christopher Walken filled to theater with laughter when he interupted the young plywrightís (Konstantinís) introduction of the play with his delivery of the lines " Two hundred thousand years from now thereíll be nothing." (Tom Stoppard, Sorin pg. 11)

The character of Trigorin as written by Anton Chekhov, and played by Kevin Kline is difficult to analyze. Trigorin was written with the attributes of an accomplished and confident writer, he had some awareness of his faults, but rather than critique himself for his flaws, he seems to embrace them.

Trigorin (played by Kevin Kline) was an accomplished and famous writer " idolized by the public, written about in all the papers, his photograph shop windows. his books translated into foreign languages..." (Tom Stoppard- Nina pg 29) These lines were well delivered by a properly starry eyed, youthful and innocent Nina (portrayed by Natalie Portman). The character Trigorin (according to the Konstantin) was " Intelligent- unaffected- a melancholy streak...".( Anton Chekhov The Seagull, A New Version by Tom Stoppard- Konstantin pg 6.)

Perhaps Trigorin's self indulgent poor me the writer diaogue:

"...And people read it and say, "Oh yes, a very pretty talent,
quite charming,
but not a patch on Tolstoy'
(Anton Chekhov The Seagull, A New Version by Tom Stoppard-Trigorin pg 34)

can help us make sense of what Anton Chekhov was trying to show us with this character. "If only we could have could have heard the the conversations when Chekhov made long journeys to talk to Tolstoy." (Irene Worth, Public Access Stagebill- The Program of The Public Theater August 2001, pg 28)

After all this analysis, I believe that Chekhov in his lifetime must have felt compelled to develop his own style. After all he had to compete with so many great writers who were already held in such high esteem, and yes adored by the public. The reviews that he may have read in his day, must of driven him to near madness. Yet to always be compared, to to other writers and to be found lacking, must have caused at least a fair amount of dissonance within his writing, and perhaps within his very soul. As for the character of Nina (Natalie Portman), here we hava an un-educated youth, throw herself at him simply due to his fame. We can imagine that Nina represents the masses. Flocking towards what they feel is good because it is what all the other people like. Aha, yes...hence the title of the play, The Seagull. Would Anton Chekhov the soulful writer be satisfied with only that ? To be viewed as an accomplished writer only because others said and thought he was good.

I for one, say no. This very concept must be what the entire play was about.

The flock-like behaviour of the people, the masses, Nina-

to Konstantin Act Two " you keep saying things somehow crosswise"
in symbols or something-
I mean,look at this this seagull, a symbol if I ever saw one,
but of what, I'm sorry, I've no idea.
I'm not clever enough to make it out.
(Tom Stoppard, Nina, pg. 30)

Was Chekhov writing his plays to be adored, by the masses ? You tell me. I would love to continue with this thread, however, the rest of the play awaits.

Kevin Kline has three notable scenes. One of the them was lost due to lously blocking where we have Arkadina (Meryl Streep) and Trigorin (Kevin Kline) facing each other with their sides presented to the audience. A good three minutes of this scene (which seemed like an eternity) had these two actors each upstaging the other, so that from where I was sitting I could neither see†the face of Meryl Streep, nor the face of Kevin Kline. The play, by the way, was directed by Mike Nichols.

Natalie Portman played the character of Nina. Nina was adored by Konstantin (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and was also liked by Trigorin (Kevin Kline). Natalie Portman showed good command of the stage from the moment she ran on to it (the stage) worried if she was late. Portman delivered her lines while acting as if she was out of breath. The character of Nina was written as a fresh starry eyed unspoiled youth. Natalie Portman the accomplished actress was given the role of playing a naÔve unspoiled and innocent youth. Portman played the role well and very convicingly. She a adored Trigorin (Kevin Kline) even before she met him, as evidenvced by the delivery of her lines before he even appeared onstage. Whereas Konstantin (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hated Trigorin, and all that he stood for.

Towards the end of act Two Anton Chekhov has provided his characters with some excellent possibilities for dramatic interaction. Konstantin has just layed the dead seagull at Ninaís feet. Konstantin indulges in self deprecation . Beating himself up in front of his would be lover, Nina. Natalie Portman played this scene with an a convincing innocense. Rahter than being taken aback and horrified by the dead seagull, and the dark cynical self depracating lines of Konstantin, she is indulgent, trying to give Konstantin the gifted writer a chance to come down from his loftly soulful artist soapbox, back down to earth, where us mortals dwell.

Rather than taking Ninaís cue to humble and explain himself, Konstantin continues with his sardonic misunderstood, an un-appreciated artist theme. As the audience views this scene, how can we blame Nina (Natalie Portman) who is doing everything she can to try to reach Konstantin the person, whom she likes, as opposed to Konstantin the deep,creative,soulful,artist,the writer.

The character of Nina is as created Chekhov is too superficial, to really understand that Konstantin is going through deep misery due to the failure of his play. However, this scence must be calling for Konstantin to be showing his undying love and pleading for Nina's sympathy. To play this character properly must be extremely difficult because the lines reveal a self absorbed deeply disturbed person. However that very same peson is also in the presence of his beloved. Therfore his every motioin and gesture must be directed and focused upon her, Nina (Natalie Portman). Unfortunately, the lines as they were delivered and the stage presence of Konstantin ( Philip Seymour Hoffman) did not convey this important conflict.

Natalie Portman held up her end of the character's relationship. She was not looking at the ground, her feet or the dead seagull. Her focus was upon him, the dejected gloomy, moody depressed, yes and suicidal person who was once at least her friend.

Every character must bring their motivation with them, up there on the stage ! The character's motivation is not lying in some ink splattered on a page. It is clearly up to the actors to bring the play to life. How to show this onstage ? Nobody ever said acting is easy, that is why the character of Konstantin is so difficult to play. One could only hope, that the actors, and directors could somehow improve this scene, so that we could understand the message that the author (Amnton Chekhov) was trying to convey.

The paly is about to have Konstantinís rival Trigorin walk on stage. This is an important beat in Anton Chekhovís play. As I remember its on-stage delivery, and read the play I woder if it could have been staged better. The stage direction (Tom Stoppard pg 30) has Konstantin see Trigorin as he walks on stage reading a book. However,as Sanders just convincingly stated above, Konstantins every gesture and attention should remain upon Nina (Natalie Portman).

So, how can this be done?

Well, how about having Nina ever so slighly perk up, yes a maybe straighten her dress a bit (and Portman can easily do this) as soon as Trigorin's presence becomes known on the stage. Then maybe we can understand some of the folowing lines spoken by Konstantin to Nina as written by Anotn Chekhov:
(Tom Stoppard, Konstantin, pg 30)

"You cant know how unhappy I am.
Your detachment is literally terrifying,
something inconceivable,
as if I were to wake up one morning and this lake had gone,
simply evaporated,
or run away into the ground."

>Are these not immortal words of ones sworn love, and the emptiness found inside when that love is lost. Couldn't someone have thought of a better way to stage this.

How about Konstantin on one knee reaching up to Natalie Portman's (Nina's) hand. Then the character playing opposite this dejected lover, can show some emotion, while also being distracted, when her idol walks on the stage.

Then in this pose, we could see Konstantin read the simple distraction shown by Nina's body langauge and slight shift in posture.

While Natalie Portman (Nina) like a leaf turning towards the sun, an ever so slight tropism towards her idol as she senses and then sees his presence. All the while still doing the best that her character Nina (as created by Chekhov with her average acting talents) can do, to feign her total attention on this despondent, and yes pathetic would be lover.

Then and only then might we have a chance of understanding the immortal words of Anton Chekhov, when Konstantin, would pause, turn away from Nina, and see Trigorin and begin standing up and withdrawing form Nina, (Natalie Portman) who by now would barely be paying any attention to him. The Audience would then hear the following lines, and understand them.

"The sun's rays have not yet kissed you
but your already smiling-
your glance melted in their warmth"

How about this link to complete script of The Seagull.

This link will take you to the latest page in this trilogy.