Many of us have heard the phrase “K.I.S.S.”- meaning to :”Keep It Simple Stupid”. Often this is used to advise one that it is of great importance to just tell one’s story without glamour and glitz or exaggeration. When attending major productions at larger theaters, we get lots of glitz and glamour; sets that seem real, costumes and wigs that are astounding and of late some special effects as well. Robert Falls of The Goodman, in his last majors brought in larger than life talent to re-invent some of the greatest stories ever told on a stage with mind boggling sets andcostumes that were beyond belief, but for his current production on the stage of the Owen, we have a masterpiece, Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, re-interpreted by Falls ( based on a translation by George Calderon) that will astound and delight you, and with no set, no fancy furniture, no gimmicks- just solid actors being smoothly directed in a three hour production that will leave you wanting more!
The action takes place in Russia and is a four act play, thus the three hours. Falls has created a first act ( about 2 hours) out of the first three acts and since the fourth act is two years later, he has made that his 2nd act. I will tell you that this was the shortest two hours I have ever sat in a theater ( there were no squirmers and no one left the theater for any reason- and NO CELLS OR TEXTING TOOK PLACE). The entire audience was as mesmerized as I was- this was pure magic on a stage! The characters are Arkadina, an actress ( played with all the emotion of an actress/mother by my favorite Chicago actress, Mary Beth Fisher), her son,Konstantin ( Stephen Louis Grush) who desires to be a writer andto make his mother proud. His life, as we see it is one of a lost soul, who envies his mothers success. There are several love stories in this story centering around the arts and people who either are in the arts or aspire to be famous. Arkadina has a young lover, Trigoren ( smoothly handled by Cliff Chamberlain) a noted fiction writer. Konstantin is in love with a young actress, Nina ( or should I say wannabe actress played to perfection by Heather Wood) who has no feeling for him. He is loved and worshipped by Masha ( deftly handled by Kelly O’Sullivan) who is loved and adored by Medvedenko, a school teacher (Demetrios Troy) who ends up getting her in the end, but her love is always for Konstantin.
Meanwhile, Nina has a crush on Trigorin and Arkadina’s brother, Sorin ( a rich and powerful performance by one of Chicago’s finest, Francis Guinan) a retired , lonely man who never married and has become quite the letch in his waning years ,yearns for Nina. In act two, after having a stroke earlier in the story, Guinan truly shows why he is an award winning actor, as he plays his part with true realism. If this isn’t a powerful enough cast, add to the mix Scott Jaeck as the good doctor Dorn,Steve Pickering as Shamrayev, manager of Sorin’s estate/farm, Janet Ulrich Brooks as his wife Polina, who by the way is Masha’s mother. These three are powerful as well. Even the ensemble members who have little to say are a key to this story, Dieterich Gray,Will Allan, Laura T. Fisher and Rebecca Buller.
Falls plays this series of love triangles very well and also works on bringing the relationships of these characters to a true understanding of the nature of people, in particular those with large egos. here are many plays that have explored people searching for their own identity, people seeking love from others as they have given ( is it really better to give than receive?) and making a family indeed a family. This is a three hour joyride that will have you laughing and howling and yet, will have you feeling for some of the characters and maybe, just maybe, thinking about your own family ( or extended family and your own relationships). Thanks to this solid cast and its director, we are allowed to inhale what it was that Chekhov was trying to tell us. Instead of staring at the set and costumes, we are listening to the playwrights words and watching this astounding cast make these characters come alive. This is what theater is all about and the Goodman may be on to something that others can learn from.
“The Seagull” will continue in the Owen located at The Goodman, 170 N. Dearborn through November 14th ( just maybe, since this is the smaller of the theaters, we will see an extra week added on to the run, but do not wait to get your tickets). The performance schedule is as follows:
Sunday,Tuesday,Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $10-$45 ( that is correct, these are absurdly low prices for a production this magnificent) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 312-443-3800 or www.GoodmanTheatre.org
This is an open seating theater, but there are no bad seats. If you have never seen a Chekov play, this is probably the best production to start with, although I have my doubts that one will ever see a better production of this show.