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The Seagull

Last night after I got home a colleague called to suddenly offer me a last-minute ticket to see a preview of The Seagull directed by Christopher Hampton of the British Royal Court Theater. I’d seen it before years and years ago, maybe twice, in England, and remembered it as sad.

Maybe I’m wrong, but despite the high praise it’s received, this British production seemed odd to me, done almost as a sitcom. There was a woman in the row behind who had watched too much TV and provided a steady laugh track of uproarious laughter, filling up the pauses, sometimes in anticipation or in the silence afterward something was said. It was very irritating. But it wasn’t just her; a sizeable section of the audience laughed a lot at some of the lines.

Yes, it’s about self-indulgent people who dedicate themselves to love – everyone loves someone who doesn’t love them, and they can’t get over it. Except for Arkadina and Trigorin, who are the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of the play, always taking care of themselves above everything, and, unlike Freddie and Fannie, emerging pretty much unscathed.

Trigorin, played by Peter Sarsgaard, caught the weakness of a popular self-recognizing second-rate writer, but didn’t have the good looks or charm that should have gone with it, so you couldn’t tell why people fell for him. (See the attached picture of Stanislavski in the original cast. He looks more impressively like a Trigorin to me.)

Kristin Scott Thomas, as the self-involved Arkadina, didn’t have the genuine seductiveness she should have had — she hammed it up a bit, even the cruelty to her son. I found it hard to feel sorry or touched by any of the characters. But their plight wasn’t genuinely funny either, unlike a brittle Noel Coward or Joe Orton play. I googled articles about the play itself, and many people do describe it as a comedy, but somehow this version of it didn’t click with me, and I think the casting was odd too.

With the financial crisis on my mind, I begin to think not only of the Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac couple, but also of Dr Dorn as Alan Greenspan, trying hard to be philosophical and kindly but not really able to help anyone in the long run. Here I’m beginning to stretch things a bit.

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