by Holli Harms
Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, he wrote as a comedy of character absurdity. Elevator Repair Service’s Seagull, based on Chekhov’s, takes that comedic edge and builds on it. The actors break the fourth wall throughout the evening, talking to us about the space we are in, their characters, their costumes, and what is going on with them emotionally, enhancing Chekhov’s desire to delve into the creative process.
In Chekhov’s letter dated October 1895 he wrote, “I am writing a play…It’s a comedy… a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love…” And that is exactly what ERS has put on the stage, the struggles and ambitions of writers, of performers, of everyday people trying to map out paths to importance and love. This production is the comedy Chekhov intended. We laugh at the absurd desperation of the characters in the name of their art and love: romantic love, family love, personal love, and acceptance. Posing the ever-present question, must an artist be in a constant struggle to produce good work?
The play is set at an estate by a lake where the famous actress, Irina (Kate Benson), her equally famous writer companion, Boris (Robert M. Johanson), and her deeply brooding and unhappy son Konstantin (Gavin Price) are staying for the summer holiday. Irina’s sister Patricia (Laurena Allan) is there as are the estate managers of the home and neighbors from around the lake.
Konstantin has written a play and cast one of the neighbors, the lovely Nina (Maggie Hoffman), in the lead. Konstantin wants to woo Nina with his words and show Irina and Boris he is as talented as they are. But Konstantin suffers from an existence lived in the shadow of fame, and the toll it’s taken has cast him into the dark crevices of life. When he is unable to get the attention he so desires from Irina and Nina, he falls deeper into depression. Nina’s performance has gotten the attention of Boris who pursues her. Tired of her son’s constant needs and her companion’s wandering eye Irina decides it is time to leave before she loses everything. Everyone is trying to improve their days and nights and growing weary of the fight.
The show runs 2 hours and 50 minutes and is an ironman marathon for the performers as they converse, dance, sing, clap, leap over furniture, emote and explode from the emotions and needs of their characters. These creators have been working together for years. It shows how tight and appreciative they are of one another. Headed by director John Collins, they are a fine-tuned clock, each part of its intricate mechanism working with Swiss precision.
The staging is all Elevator Repair Service choreographed with severe stillness and wild movement, concentrated and expansive. It is nothing if not imaginative and makes you, the viewer, part of the process as you must let yourself be carried by the leaps and bounds that the performers take. Elevator Repair Service has consistently been one of New York’s most innovative theater companies, pushing the boundary of what theater is, what it can be, and where it can go. You might not always understand or agree with its choices but you will walk away with new and deeper thoughts on theater and, for me, a greater understanding of Chekhov’s The Seagull. The flash flood existential staging is exhilarating and requires work by the audience. The night I was in attendance no one minded the need for shared work from both actors and the audience as it only enhanced both our experiences.
Elevator Repair Service’s Seagull directed by John Collins, based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.
Scenic design by dots, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Marika Kent, sound design by Gavin Price and John Gasper
NYU Skirball mandates proof of vaccination for all audience members, performers, crew, and venue staff. Face masks will be required at all times. For complete Covid precautions, visit nyuskirball.org.