Classy, subtle typeface, for a classy subtle play
This past weekend, the Barnard Theatre Department put on a production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull in Minor Latham Playhouse. Bwog’s in-house theater critic Joseph Powers discusses the success of subtlety in the show.
Theater shouldn’t come in screaming its intention, tearing off its clothes to reveal itself. It also can’t try for complete obscurity, babble incoherently, and giggle at the confusion of the audience. Good theater has subtlety; it finds a way to communicate its meaning without giving it away. Saturday afternoon, at the Minor Latham Playhouse, this balance between clarity and eloquence was both alluded to on stage and expertly showcased. A nuanced interpretation of a classic play, the Barnard Theatre Department’s production of The Seagull was proof of the importance of subtlety.
This is no small accomplishment. After a catastrophic opening night in 1896 and what can be considered only a moderately successful first run, it took a revival under the direction of revered Russian dramatist Constantin Stanislavski, for The Seagull to find real appreciation from critics and the public. The plot, a work of great subtlety itself, is at once a story of love and loss in the Russian countryside and a discussion on the nature of art. Exploring realism, symbolism, youthful ambitions juxtaposed with the regret of old age, the middlebrow and the high, and the various forms meaning can take, it is a play that, in the wrong hands, could easily collapse under the weight of its own ideas.
Director David Paul, together with student Assistant Director Cristina Angeles (BC ‘16), first avoided this through the use of tableau. A famous actress stands at the center of the stage with friends and family fanning out around her, the center of focus no matter who is speaking; the girl who now only dreams of being an actress stands off to the side, breaking this formation and drawing attention from the actress to herself. The relationship between the two is expressed even without explicit acknowledgement. Characters positioned behind a scrim upstage contribute to a show-within-a-show motif and comment on the main action, either in their implied observation, or as a reminder of their relevance to the scene at hand. The directing team also made great use of small moments: an old man reaches down to retrieve a flower taken from him and torn apart; a room grows awkwardly silent in anticipation of a crude story. In moments like these, and in the tableaus, the direction highlights the complex themes of the play without the need for caricature or melodramatic reading.
Flaws, looming after the jump (along with performances and tech)