Thursday, March 16, 2023

I saw Parker Posey in The Seagull / Woodstock. (UPDATED)

 She was great! The show was even better. And I hate Chekov.

The Seagull / Woodstock Soars at Signature Theater

The Seagull / Woodstock is brought to life with an outstanding cast and a great new adaptation by Thomas Bradshaw at the Signature Theater. The show is well paced, relatable, and often hilarious. If none of this sounds like The Seagull you know from Chekhov, you would be correct. I do not like being a critic that refers to previous iterations of a play, but it is hard not to do here. This adaptation is that entertaining. Set in New York and populated with English names, the characters of The Seagull / Woodstock are distinct and the show much easier to follow. But Chekov’s rumination on love comes through stronger than ever. Self-love, romantic love, obsessive and jealous love, they all flow as easily as water on stage.

The Seagull / Woodstock is set in Woodstock New York - the town, not the concert. Here the Broadway Diva Irene rules the social set by force of an oversized personality. Parker Posey plays Irene with a sharp edge and a patter that reminds you of Parker Posey the actress. But Irene’s persona, dreams, and fears quickly drive the real Parker Posey out of the viewers mind. Irene is the local star who everyone wants to be friends with, in the group of rich theater refuges from the City. Irene’s boyfriend William (an outstanding Ato Essandoh) is a published writer. His easy-going charm and sex appeal hangs around him like an aura.

Ato Essandoh, Parker Posey, Daniel Oreskes and David Cale

We meet the group as they gather for Irene’s son Kevin's (Nat Wolff) play featuring his girlfriend Nina (Aleyse Shannon). Done on a makeshift stage in the woods, Kevin's friends as well as his mother and her boyfriend attend. The play within the play is an experimental piece with Nina interacting with the audience. It is not a good play and has progressed to the terrible when Irene loudly puts an end to it. But that does not put an end to Nina's fascination with author William.

Irene’s co-owner and life long bestie Samuel (David Cale) is attendance. He is the lovable gay housemother to the gang, but with a restrained personality. As peacemaker he tries to keep the group's snarkiness in check. Husband and wife, Darren and Pauline (Daniel Oreskes and Amy Stiller) are old friends and neighbors. Old friends whose marriage now seems like a set of rounds in a boxing match. Also in attendance is old hunk Dean (Bill Sage), a man who drifts through the show effortlessly and grounds the proceedings. Darren and Pauline’s daughter Sasha (Hari Nef) sets up the story of unrequited love. 

A local young man Mark (David Foley) is in love with Sasha. Sasha tells Mark that she cannot love him and cannot force herself to love him because she is in love with Kevin, Irene’s son. Kevin, meanwhile, is in love with Nina. But Nina has becoming smitten with William, the writer and Irene’s partner. Barbs disguised as jokes and anger barely disguised at all, are tossed around as these friends meet in various groups. All the while with an undercurrent of love and friendship

The second half of The Seagull / Woodstock takes place two years later. Samuel is dying in hospice and his friends travel to Woodstock to gather once more and say goodbye. David Cale doesn’t play Samuel as a tragic character, but as a man happy to see his friends one last time.

In the proceeding two years Nina had an affair with William. It only ended when Nina’s baby was stillborn. Nina left William (or he left her) and is now traveling the country as an actress in road company’s playing in third string cities. William and Irene are still together, despite his long affair with Nina. Kevin has given up playwriting and has had a book published. Sasha, realizing that Kevin will never love her, has married Mark, but treats him with contempt. In the second half, the characters still ring with laughter but it is forced and brittle.

Ato Essandoh and Aleyse Shannon

And, in the end, The Seagull / Woodstock proves the adage that if you introduce a gun in Act I, you will use it by Act III.

Thomas Bradshaw has delivered a fantastic adaptation of Chekov’s The Seagull. He brings the story and feelings center stage. This in a show that usually feels remote and clinical. Director Scott Elliot makes use of the stage, the entrances and lighting to breathe a robust life into the show. His direction of the cast is spot on. The Seagull / Woodstock is fantastic and extended. Go see it!

The Seagull / Woodstock
PlaywrightThomas Bradshaw, based on Chekov | DirectorScott Elliot | CastDavid Cale, Ato Essandoh, Patrick Foley, hari Nef, Daniel Oreskes, Parker Posey, Bill sage, Aleyse Shannon, Amy Stiller, Nat Wolff

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