Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Laura Braza

Review | The Notebook of Trigorin by Tennessee Williams | a Free Adaptation of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov | Translated by Ann Dunnigan | Directed by Laura Braza | Attic Theater Company

Whatever Williams may have worked out for himself in this 1981 exercise of adaptation, he didn’t do Chekhov any good, much as he admired the Russian playwright.  Evidently it was important to Williams to write this play it but it’s of interest mainly to those with an active concern with theater history  — in that these are two very great playwrights and it could be said anything they did is of interest.

The play — Chekhov pure or filtered through Williams — is a web of unrequited love.  The characters gather on the estate of Sorin, brother of the famous actress Arkadina, who has come to vacation there with her lover Trigorin.  He is a successful and conventional writer, a foil for Konstantin, Arkadina’s son who, with his passionate, youthful belief in a need for “new forms” for literature, is staging his avant-garde play on an improvised outdoor stage.  Konstantin is in love with his actress, Nina who, in short order, falls in love with Trigorin (which might leave Konstantin available for Masha, the Steward’s daughter, who loves him passionately but it won’t happen).

The drama of the powerful first act of The Seagull — and it retains some of its power here — centers around Konstantin’s desire for his mother’s praise, attention and respect, and her laughing dismissal of his play which she finds absurd, with its all talk no action.  “Ah,” she whispers with amused irony to her worldly companion Trigorin, “recitative.”  Chekhov in this episode gave us great talk and action — and we did not need Masha to tell us before hand, as she does in Williams’ adaptation, that Arkadina “will despise the play this evening and make no secret of it.”  Here, as elsewhere, what Chekhov implies, Williams highlights with a magic marker.

Williams pushes hard to cast light on the fascinatingly equivocal relationship Chekhov created between Arkadina and Trigorin.  What is the nature of their bond?  Trigorin chafes at its restraints yet they remain together, his fling with Nina, and the baby produced from it, notwithstanding.  Williams responds to the ambiguities by making Trigorin bisexual, inserting flings with men as well as that with Nina, a characterization that in the context seems forced and somewhat implausible.

In Chekhov’s play, Dr. Dorm is a loving personality who, as a nature romantic, assigns passionate longings to the power of the nearby lake.  Dorn, in Chekhov, is a ray of hope amidst the bevy of dysfunctional characters.  In keeping with his own tragic vision, Williams’ turns him into a heartless misogynist.

The earlier part of The Notebook of Trigorin has more the feel and flavor of Chekhov, and as the play progresses Williams’ tragic sensibility and vision of characters living in a world of their own illusions become more dominant.  As in the characters of Trigorin and Dorn, this produces distracting disjunctions.  Williams pulls a rabbit out of the hat at the very end in a grand gesture by Arkadina.  It’s wondrously theatrical, and the one point where, for a moment, I felt Williams has actually improved on Chekhov, until I realized that Arkadina, narcissistic but in touch, would not have done it:  Blanche Dubois of Streetcar Named Desire might well have.

Michael Schantz conveys the confidence, and underlying agitation of Trigorin, the successful author and alluring man.  Jeremy Lawrence is amusing and touching as the estate owner, Sorin, who confronts in old age his failure to achieve his two goals:  to marry and to be a writer.

Beyond them, the acting is lackluster, one of the casualties of which is that the symbolic power of the seagull Konstantin shoots and presents to Nina as a love gift is lost.  Charise Green as Arkadina throws herself into arguments with effective no holds-barred emotionality but fails to convey the famous actress’s charisma.  She characterizes the narcissistic, dominating woman by screams so grating that I tucked in turtle-wise every time I saw them coming; otherwise she adopts an intimate affect so quiet a lot of her lines couldn’t be heard.

According to the program, Williams wrote this adaptation to make the “quiet” “delicate” Chekhov more accessible to American audiences.  “Our theatre has to cry out to be heard at all …”   But quiet, delicate Chekhov has done very well in America and around the world, as has Tennessee Williams, both deservedly.  Just not in this hybrid.

The Notebook of Trigorin  plays at The Flea Theater in NYC’s Tribeca district through May 18th.

Review | The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan | Directed by Laura Braza | Attic Theater Company

The Time of Your Life is a classic American play.  It’s terrific, wonderful, rich in comedy, music, dance, vivid characters, feeling, humanity — all that and it has a great sense of place and time, a gritty San Francisco waterfront bar on the eve of World War II.

Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Bar, and Entertainment Palace:  think colorful characters, from the guy sweeping, to Nick himself who comes in to open, to the old guys and young, cripples and musicians, tarts and society dames.  And everybody has a good heart except for Blick, the Cop the puritanical vice hunting cop.  That’s Saroyan — he’s filled with love but he knows the score.

The story centers around Kitty Duval, a street walker with a burlesque past, Joe, the only of Nick’s regulars with money, and Tom, Joe’s not-too-bright errand boy who loves Kitty.  Joe’s a cynic on the outside but tender on the inside, and sees the special human virtues in all the denizens of Nick’s bar, including the inner innocence of Kittty the tart.

Being at Nick’s is like being part of a family — you belong.  Nick gives a chance — and a job — to the Black kid who can’t believe he’s lucky enough to get paid for playing boogie-woogie on the piano.  And Nick finds a place for the dancer/comedian who can’t raise a laugh.  But there’s a snake in the garden of this sweet if seamy Paradise — Blick, the vice cop.  Nick throws him out of the place when he comes hunting “vagrants” and “whores”.  “I’m not breaking any laws,” Nick says.  But Blick “is” the law, and we know he’s going to be back.

Set in a bar which is home to its regulars, and where dreams flourish, the play reminds me a lot of O’Neil’s Iceman Cometh, but The Time of Your Life looks outward rather than inward and is more seated in the American social context and history than in philosophy and psychology.  By the end of Time of Your Life, you feel you’ve seen a full American panorama, played out through lives of individual characters you care about.  The play has an unexpected — and beautifully planted — ending that brings together truth and fantasy¸ realism and hope, in a way I’ll never forget.

The Attic Theater production is appreciative of the play and the play comes through.  Henry Packer is strong and humorous as Kit Carson who has impossible romantic yarns to tell about the early West  — and has that wonderful last word on things — and I loved listening to Rocky Bostick as Wesley on the piano —  but in general the actors are a little youthful and unseasoned for their parts.   You do not get the sense of lives lived in tough circumstances.   But you do get The Time of Your Life, and that’s a lot.

The Time of Your Life plays at the Connelly Theater in Manhattan’s East Village through February 25th, 2012.

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