SEAGULL at Steppenwolf hits some turbulence
It seems like first productions in new spaces never meet the high expectations, and this SEAGULL in the new in-the-round Ensemble Theater at Steppenwolf has a bumpy flight. There are both positives and negatives to mention.
The central scenes of Act 2 are brilliant, when Luisa Strus takes center stage as Irina and lets both the comedy and tragedy fly in back to back scenes with her son Treplev (Namir Smallwood), whom she pities, and her lover Trigorin (Joey Slotnick) whom she berates and seduces. Strus is perfect and perfectly styled in Ana Kuzmanic's costumes and Tom Watson's wigs.
Much of the other staging was less gratifying. The new space looks great, but if you are in the upper rows and actors are looking at the floor, it is tough to see their eyes and feel the connection you would generally get in a proscenium house where the stage is just above eye level.
The minimal set by Todd Rosenthal was effective but overpowering. I enjoyed the sound and original music by Pornchanok Kanchanabanca, and the sound system is top-notch. Even though it was not full when we attended, it took a long time to exit the space, as everyone must go up to the highest level before being funneled into one lobby door and one staircase down.
Many of the costumes combined contemporary fashion with period-ish clothes. Masha is now dressed in black but is now fully goth with ripped fishnets, boots, and black makeup, and Karen Rodriguez got some great laughs. When Irina, previously seen only in white, enters for her final scene in a floor-length black coat, which she dropped to reveal a stunning scarlet dress, the effect - and the point - were both made elegantly.
Most Chekhovian productions contain moments of beautiful light as the seasons' change and hopes fade. Adaptor, translator, and director Yasen Peyakov may have been pushing too hard to find the comedy in this new Seagull and lost some of the emotion along the way. When the wooden seagull prop was brought on, and the autumn leaves fell rather artlessly, I wished the experience had touched me more profoundly.