One of the characters in The Seagull says that theatre is medicine and the audience needs healing. In the case of the Seagull, the medicine is both delicious and effective. The play is long, but one only notices that after it is over, the standing ovation ends, and you glance at a watch. In theatre time it transpires in a flash. This is first class medicine from some world class practitioners.
This production, in modern dress and using contemporary Canadian and current international references, is utterly Chekhovian. It is very funny and yet manages to deliver a great many beautifully crafted poignant moments. The cast which had so little time to rehearse really felt like an ensemble, and the scene changes and transition were engaging and flawless. I particularly enjoyed Masha dancing to a jazz number in an ultra-hipster ironic moment. Nina resembles a member of Pussy Riot when she delivers the symbolist lines of Constantine’s play, and Sorina is hilarious in her role as judge.
The cast is not only outstanding, they sometimes take one’s breath away. Particularly moving is the performance of Shannon Currie, who makes the difficult final scene both touching and comprehensible. Patrick Costello brought a depth of feeling to Constantine that was as honest as any Stanislavski could have wished. Danielle Desarmeaux is delightful as Polina, giving her a lightness that is truly touching. Michel Perron is terrific as Shamraev, playing the role of the peasant with humour and strength. Patrick McManus portrays a delightfully varied and sincere Dorn, giving the lightest touch to the comedy and the strongest interpretation to the tragedy. Andrew Shaver has a certain genius as Medvedenko, and the audience is laughing out loud as he takes his exit in the final act. Lucy Peacock is magical as Arkadina. Her musical reading of the part delivered comedy melodrama tragedy and irony within a single line.
Diane D’Aquila is a superb Sorina, and director Peter Hinton was brilliant to give the part to a woman and make her Arkadina’s sister. The scene where Sorina is begging Arkadina to show some love to her son is heartbreaking. Marcel Jeanin plays a sexy supercilious and delightful Trigorin. His pleas to Arkadina to “let him go,” are both believable and hilarious.
Many of us have seen or studied this play in the past, but Hinton’s modernisation makes it immediate edgy contemporary and highlights Chekhov’s genius. The opening play within the play (usually difficult) is incandescent in this performance. One feels for the poor fledgling playwright and wishes to strangle the interrupter of this effort in all its sophomoric glory.
The set by Eo Sharp is modern and innovative and gets more remarkable as the performance progresses. It has the edginess of something utterly new and daring and it uses the awkward dimensions of the Segal stage with fabulous ease. The lighting by Robert Thomson is delightful as it creates the moods for which this play is so rightly famous. In addition is the fine soundscape by Dmitri Marin.
It is hard to leave the blandishments of the flat screen to venture into our arctic season. Do it for Hinton’s Chekhov and you will have no regrets.
At the Segal Centre, 5170 Chemin de la Cote Ste.-Catherine
To Feb 16. For tickets call 514 739 2301 or go here.
PHOTO: Andrér Lanthier
Anna Fuerstenberg interviews director Peter Hinton here.