Review: In ‘The Seagull,’ a Great Play, a Great Cast and Yet …

Watching Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina in “The Seagull,” Michael Mayer’s adaptation of the sturdy Anton Chekhov play, you would possibly virtually imagine that the position was written together with her in thoughts. There could be very little Ms. Bening can’t do, however one of many issues she does greatest is play actresses — the title character in “Being Julia,” Gloria Grahame in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” and now Chekhov’s diva of the late-19th-century Moscow stage. Irina is charming and foolish, imperious and clever, robust to the purpose of cruelty and in addition exquisitely delicate. Her brother’s nation property, the place almost all the drama takes place, is a hive of shifting loyalty, jealousy and need, dominated by Irina’s grand and troublesome persona.

Ms. Bening stands out as the straw that stirs this explicit drink, however she is hardly the one marvel in a solid that features Corey Stoll (as Irina’s lover, the celebrated author Boris Trigorin), Brian Dennehy (as Sorin, Irina’s perpetually dying brother) and Elisabeth Moss (because the cynical and lovelorn Masha, daughter of the property supervisor). Supplying the requisite notes of youthful ardor are Billy Howle, as Irina’s melancholy son, Konstantin, and Saoirse Ronan, as Nina, the younger neighbor he tormentedly loves. (Mr. Howle and Ms. Ronan are additionally paired in Dominic Cooke’s “On Chesil Beach,” which opens subsequent week).

If Shakespeare tends to goad trendy performers towards shows of shoulder-swinging actorishness, Chekhov typically has a opposite, admirably humbling impact. His psychology is so acute, his language so supple and sharp, that his work calls forth low-key intelligence as an alternative of high-toned magniloquence. The characters in “The Seagull” are useless, typically depressing creatures, however they’re additionally conscious of the comical elements of their existence. There is gravity — even tragedy — of their circumstances, however nothing heavy in regards to the play itself. It holds its form like an ideal soufflé, wealthy and ethereal, easy and but the product of miraculous method.

The recipe is there, on the web page. (The playwright Stephen Karam, creator of “The Humans,” wrote the screenplay). The human components are neatly assembled. But by some means, the execution fails. What is that unusual, discordant taste? What is the supply of the alternately gritty and gloppy texture?

The reply, in a phrase, is cinema. Not one thing I’m in opposition to by any means, however one thing Mr. Mayer, whose earlier options are “A Home at the End of the World” and “Flicka,” ladles onto “The Seagull” like gravy from a school-cafeteria tub. An ready theatrical director (his Broadway credit embrace “Spring Awakening” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), Mr. Mayer overwhelms the play with incessant digicam actions, busily zooming and swooping via the units, disrupting scenes with hectic, inexplicable rhythms.

At one level, throughout an important and intense confrontation between Irina and her son, the digicam cuts from one to the opposite virtually 30 occasions, at odd angles and apparently random intervals. The impact is like being nudged by the patron within the subsequent seat or waved at from throughout the theater. When try to be immersed, you’re distracted. When try to be hanging on Irina and Konstantin’s each indignant, tender, scalding phrase, your consideration is bounced round like a tennis ball.

Is this a disaster? No. “The Seagull,” as you hardly wanted me to let you know, stays a masterpiece, a pungent and completely trendy anatomy of the conflicting pursuits of fame, artwork, love and happiness. Ms. Bening, Ms. Moss and Ms. Ronan specifically are very good, as you additionally most likely didn’t want me to let you know. Each one finds the individuality that Chekhov, with uncanny sympathy and sly gallantry, imparted to his feminine characters. The solid is nice. The play is nice. But that is nonetheless a nasty film, as a result of it has no clear or coherent thought of be one.

The Seagull
Rated PG-13. Someone shoots a chicken. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.

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