If you’ve ever dreaded a production of a familiar play because whatever could possibly be said or done about it has already been said or done, I have the cure. Go see The Seagull at the Goodman (through November 21) and then go see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Raven (through December 19). Chicago is a town that prizes new work, but don’t worry: each of these is new work at the very highest level.
The program-cover illustration for The Seagull is absolutely perfect: an X-ray of the bird. Director Robert Falls sees right through the play, sweeping away the long dresses and heavy furniture of the traditional Chekhov production to present it in modern dress on a bare stage. Between their scenes actors sit upstage, observing the action. Blake Montgomery did much the same thing with his Hamlet at the Building Stage several years ago, working in an almost Brechtian fashion with idle actors in full view in the wings while their active colleagues negotiated life and death on a bare promenade. There, as here, the director stripped the barnacles off a familiar text to reveal the shining–and deadly sharp–metal beneath.
The comparison is apt for another reason: as Falls’ approach makes clear, The Seagull is Chekhov’s Hamlet.