New York, New York March 29, 2023 --
The New Group’s The Seagull/Woodstock, NY is a rare adaptation that allows its audience to better understand the original. With Thomas Bradshaw’s contemporary text, and the deft direction of Scott Elliot, the production’s star-studded cast brings each character to life with delicacy and care.

Framed against a luminous red velvet curtain, elegant wooden surfaces, and boho chic set dressing by Derek McLane the world of an upstate New York artist colony is evoked with crystalline vision.

Just as in Chekov’s original, the first act finds a fictional play as its focal point, an experimental and fourth-wall-breaking work written by Kevin—played by Nat Wolff--—and starring Aleyse Shannon’s Nina, the aspiring actress he is in love with. The pseudo-intellectual production is preceded by a content warning that is mirrored nearly word for word on the play’s paper program, alerting both audiences to the provocative content of the play within the play.

Sure enough, racial slurs and sexually explicit stories scandalize Kevin’s mother Irene, especially as the performance climaxes with her partner William (Ato Essandoh) being invited to peek behind the makeshift stage’s curtain to watch Nina masturbate in a porcelain bathtub.

Parker Posey shines as the ebullient actress, drifting about the stage in flowing dresses and jumpsuits full of self-involvement and oozing with a tacky style that conceals a considerable amount of wisdom.

Costumes by Qween Jean often provide such insights as with the acerbic Hari Nef who plays Sasha, a gloomy heiress who dresses almost exclusively in ratty black athleisure. In the face of her unrequited love for Kevin, her self-destructive tendencies are realized in both her presentation and actions.

Early in the second act, while eating Kashi cereal straight from the box, she asks William to sign her copy of his novel. Within the seconds it takes him to write an inscription, the emotions that flash across her face as she resigns herself to having the child of a man that she does not love are breathtaking.

While moments of complex emotional drama unfold throughout the play, its greatest strength is the comic performances that come from all angles of the performances. Oblivious to their hubristic desires, the miseries, and frustrations that abound in the characters’ lives are handled with care even as the humor inherent to Chekov’s work is drawn into sharp focus.

Even as Kevin’s suicide marks the penultimate moment of the play, a crass game of scrabble between the unknowing Irene and her friends holds the production firm in its commitment to not tumbling into simple tragedy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele


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