Shannon is a designer in Philadelphia
I’ll start with what’s in my pockets. I spent four years paying top dollar for a degree that says I’m a specialist in early modernist Western literature (take that for what its worth). I also once costume designed a production of The Seagull (way more relevant). 
For that project, I spent a lot of time with the script. I’ve always been of two minds about the play. I’ve heard a lot over the years, from friends, acquaintances, strangers, and now EgoPo, about the eternal relevance of Chekhov. I have my doubts. Not to get too lit-crit on everyone, but Symbolism is the tradition that dominates modern Western literature. This play sits on the breaking edge of that wave. It was, at the time, part of a new movement. A little experimental, a little revolutionary…120 years ago. Now though? Honestly, The Seagull is about a bunch of unrelatable historical fantasy people. The pacing is awkward, it takes an awful lot of good acting and direction to justify some of the stakes, and as with all period plays, it means suffering through at least one fake accent. (Please stop doing this. I promise you, it isn’t as good as you think it is.)
In his director’s note, Lane Savadove talks about the “dust” that starts to settle onto plays that make it into rep. Yeah. It can get downright noxious. I show up more or less expecting to be bored, if not offended. But EgoPo had the self-awareness and audacity to attempt not just to re-stage but to revive The Seagull. A tall order. And the thing is, they pretty much did it.
A lot of the production was fresh. EgoPo aimed to create an atmosphere and a universe that transcended the proscenium. The audience was invited to consider themselves guests at Konstantin’s play within the play from the moment they entered the bar / lobby space. A painfully earnest Konstantin (Andrew Carroll) led us through an enchanted transitional space, which included the actor’s green room, and onto a stage that was just gob-smackingly beautiful. To Thom Weaver and the rest of the design team: I am just one big Orson Welles standing ovation meme. This set was radically smart. It had a lush realism that delighted – actual water! actual dock! actual room! – and a heady abstraction that challenged and denuded, as when Nina (Anna Zaida Szapiro) delivered her Act 1 monologue lit in blue like an avenging fury. The greatest moment was of course, Act 3, when the solid ground flew away and furniture was re-set straight into the lake. Each and every character was forced to wade through the water and pretend as if nothing had changed. Could it be that the water had always been there? Sloshing around the actors’ ankles, weighing down the hems of dresses and pants – a symbol of something inevitable and drowning. It was a potent visual cue. The audience could see clearly that the boat had sunk and Arkadina (Melanie Julian) and Trigorin (Ed Swidey) had no power to seduce us any longer.
I think with these bold strokes, EgoPo made an eloquent case for revisiting Chekhov, and perhaps by extension, other theatrical “masters”. I was forced to recognize the universals: the violence of the old against the young; the inevitable and destructive force of human vanity; and, ironically, the impossible attempt we all make to control Art and its many Forms.
Did I still get bored? Yes, of course. Let’s not forget that the whole play leans heavily on certain gender tropes that we are all really tired of seeing: evil, sexy mothers and naive, virginal girls. Madonna/whore till the end, I guess? This is a thing I don’t believe has to stay a universal. It only perpetuates as long as we choose to perform the same plays over and over.
The only other bone I’d pick is with the program note on the Russian season. There is a lot of highfalutin speak on the timeliness of a Russian season. I get it. It was a natural connection to make. But I’m not sure I’m too keen on getting sold some tale that Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov are somehow relevant windows into the Russian psyche. I get it, we’re talking very generally, yeah – but if you’re going to frame your season in the geo-political landscape, I don’t know, I’d rather it actually got political. I’m not going to pretend I went home with a better sense of how my Russian peers are living, loving, suffering. If we’re going to get high on “activists and dissenters,” I think we need something a little more Pussy Riot and a little less Pushkin, don’t you?

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