i’m in mourning for my life!

“Masha, Masha, why do you always wear black?”
“I’m in mourning for my life.”

I love that. What an awesome way to open a play! The RSC’s production of The Seagull, though not without its faults, was totally enjoyable and actually kind of inspiring. We saw it on Friday, with Sir Ian as Sorin.

The last Chekhov we saw was Rachel Chavkin’s Uncle Vanya at CSC, which was laudable in its own right; it was very moving and in its own way faithful to the text. The RSC staging of The Seagull, of course, was extremely faithful to the text – totally traditional and very well-acted. It only serves to reinforce how great Chekhov is that, almost no matter how his work is staged, it remains timeless, relevant and insightful.

Chekhov just gets better the older I get. The more I see of life, the more I realize how he nailed the hilarious, bittersweet horror of daily existence. The strength of the RSC production is how clean it is – the staging is so precise and the acting so immaculate that every choice is clear, no moment between characters is missed. The ensemble – the same cast as Lear – turned in great performances. They were either more comfortable with the play or they had settled into the space, but they seemed more relaxed and in sync than the night before during Lear. McKellen showed that he can play in the ensemble, not just as a lead, and his light comic touch was spot on.

My only nitpick is Trigorin and Nina. I felt that Trigorin could have been played as more manipulative. In the scene when he seduces Nina they played it kind of innocently – but let’s face it, when a 35 year old man puts the moves on an 18 year old girl, he knows what he’s doing. Plus, Trigorin loves to fish. Its a metaphor, right? He’s trolling for Nina, catches her, plays with her and throws her back.

And Nina could have used a little more variation in tone. In the second-to-last scene when she comes back to the house and has that interlude with Konstantin, well, she wasn’t quite changed enough. She obviously has come back to see Trigorin, who has abandoned her, but she can’t help being doggedly in love with him. And something has got to happen in that scene, between Konstantin and Nina, that drives Konstantin’s final action. I just didn’t feel like Nina brought it home; I wanted more subtlety in their interchange, more poignancy when he offers himself up to her yet again, and she rejects him. It was there but it wasn’t totally spot on.

But like I said, that’s nitpicky. By and large the show was really strong and, plus, just seeing the RSC do their thing is a real treat. If you can get tickets go check it out, for sure.

Saturday Culturebot went down to Philadelphia to see Pig Iron Theatre’s Isabella – a ghoulish and creepy radical re-interpretation of Measure for Measure. Basically, the idea is that a mortician decides to stage Shakespeare’s “problem play” using corpses. So the actors are, um, totally naked and made up to look like corpses and they act like zombies while the mortician gradually loses control of the play and the corpses. It was funny and macabre. I definitely had some questions for the director but I couldn’t stay for the Q&A since I had to get on a train back to NYC.

Anyway – it was a crazy weekend. Going from the RSC’s Shakespeare, through Chekhov, to a crazy naked zombie Shakespeare – it just reinforced (cue the strings) how much Culturebot loves theater. It is such a thrilling, amazing, inventive, enlightening art form. It is easy to get jaded by all the crap and the gimmicks and the hucksterism and the self-indulgent navel-gazing. But when theater is great – even when it is just good – it can be such an awe-inspiring experience. I love that feeling of watching life being presented to us onstage – no matter how mixed-up, mashed-up and recontextualized – and going “Yeah! That’s it exactly!”

Well, its Sunday night and time to get ready for another action-packed week. See you in the theater!

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