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The Seagull and Other Birds

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Gina Moxley and Dick Walsh
Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Aficionados of experimental theater, the kind that simultaneously enlightens, amuses and confounds, are hereby directed to the Abrons Arts Center and the Irish company Pan Pan's production of The Seagull and Other Birds. Among other things, you'll be asked to participate in a sing-along, you may be invited to dance onstage, or you could even walk away with a watch. Oh, and it helps if you are familiar with Anton Chekhov's The Seagull that serves as a springboard for the goings-on.

It is when we are in the territory of The Seagull that the performers get to show off their traditional and accomplished acting chops. Gina Moxley and Dick Walsh, in particular, play off one another beautifully as the fading narcissistic actress Arkadina and her intense son Konstantin, the would-be avant-garde playwright whom she criticizes and mocks at every turn.

Somewhere amidst meta-theatrical bursts of inscrutable dialog that are hurled at us at random intervals, we begin to understand that these are representative of Konstantin's efforts to create something new and exciting, to break out of the stale mold of the conventional. That he fails to convince his audience (the other characters from The Seagull) is captured by Ms. Moxley's Arkadina: "I didn't realize this was high art. Why didn't he write a normal play?"

If you pay attention through the musical interludes, the inexplicable ballet movements, and the sometimes intentionally overblown dialog, you'll find that what Pan Pan has done is to dig deeply into Chekhov's play, retaining its broad outline and filtering it through an Irish sensibility reminiscent of James Joyce or Samuel Beckett at their most enigmatic.

And while parts of the production defy understanding, a lot of it is fun in a Mad Tea Party sort of way, with the cast cavorting in leotards and tutus performing a bit of Swan Lake, referencing other playwrights (including a cleverly positioned bit of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, trying their hand at hip-hop, and gently coercing audience participation.

You may leave the theater scratching your head over it all, but you will certainly have experienced a wild ride with a smart and clever theatrical troupe. You may also find yourself thinking about The Seagull in a whole new way.

The Seagull and Other Birds
Through April 4
Abrons Arts Center - Playhouse Theater, 499 Grand Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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