THE SEAGULL on Broadway

I had some free time yesterday afternoon, so I went by the half-price ticket booth at about 1:30 and half-heartedly bought tickets to the Royal Court Theatre‘s production of Anton Chekhov‘s The Seagull on Broadway.

I say “half-heartedly” because (1) this is one of those productions with movie stars making their Broadway debuts, which is hardly ever a good sign, (2) most Chekhov, Ibsen and non-Impact Shakespeare shows I’ve seen are stiff and deadly dull, and (3) it worked well with “half-price” in that sentence.

Turns out, this was one of the most lively and human productions of a classic that I’ve ever seen. I think it’s a combination of the acting (most of the actors came over from the acclaimed British production of the play) and especially the adaptation/translation.

I read somewhere in an article that I now can’t find that Christopher Hampton sat down with a Russian speaker who took him through the script page-by-page, saying “This line gets a big laugh in Russian but has never worked in English.” So Hampton worked to make the scenes work the same way, rather than worry about word-for-word translation.

I also think the direction made it nice and snappy. The stage was minimal, with not a lot of furniture being hauled around. I know I’m starting to get a bit repetitive on that point, but it’s really been noticeable in the last few plays I’ve seen: the plays that use the theater to simply suggest a room and then quickly move from scene to scene work nicely; the plays that pause the action to shift around a bunch of tables lose momentum and look like they’re trying to approximate a TV show.

Oh, and Kristin Scott Thomas, making her Broadway debut, was wonderful, so maybe I’ll revise my statement about movie stars on Broadway. Then again, Peter Sarsgaard was just okay, so maybe I won’t.

(That’s probably unfair. Sarsgaard reminds me of a creepy guy I used to know, so I think I project more freakiness on him than’s actually there. Then again, he was in the world’s worst Saturday Night Live sketch ever — about the Sarsgaard SARS Guard — so now I don’t know what to think.)