Friday, July 3, 2009

Caesar and the Seagull

Performance: The Seagull on 16th St
: Theater J.1529 16th Street NW

Metro Stops: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
: Wikipedia says it's a comedy. I'm not so sure
: All tickets are half price for people 35 and under (and the Sunday shows are only $30 to begin with).

There are also $10 tix from Goldstar and $15 Neighborhood Nights (use the code Dupont for Wed or Thurs tickets through the rest of the run).

Through: 7/19

Rating: 3.5/5 Starving Artists

A note: I’ve been really negligent in getting this post up, even though I saw this show over a week ago. This was due in part to the fact that we left for vacation, and in part because I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ll keep this short for both reasons.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the title character notes, "He thinks too much: such men are dangerous". Though Caesar is talking about Cassius, he could just as easily be talking about the Seagull on 16th St, Theater J’s new production Chekhov’s classic. In an effort to include all of the headiness of the original play, and add new themes and undercurrents, the Theater J staff has created a play with so many thoughts that it becomes dangerously wordy, on the verge of crumbling under its own weight. This is not to say that the play is not good. It is certainly well preformed by a veteran cast. These stars shine, but they get buried under so many love triangles, subplots, and revelations that it is hard to focus on their performances. Theater J’s most notable addition to the original text is the introduction of a plotline that explores the Jewish identities of some of the characters. This text seems poorly grafted on, and it is difficult to see how it fits with the themes of the rest of the play, or why it was necessary.

The play is an interesting one. It is about the struggle to find one’s own identity, in the midst of family strife and unrequited love. The interplay between Arkadina (powerfully performed by Naomi Jacobson) and her son Treplev (Alexander Strain) was notably compelling. Treplev is trying to assert his own identity by launching a new theater company (in this version it is a Jewish Theater Company, in the original it is a part of the Russian Symbolist movement) while his mother, a star actress on summer holiday, steals his spotlight. This sets up a tense and complex storyline about artistic expression and individual identity that is one of the play’s most compelling themes.

So how can one feel about a play that says too many interesting things? Is too much of a good thing still a good thing? I recommend you go see the show and let me know what you thought in the comments.

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