Playwright: Aaron Posner. At: Sideshow Theatre Company at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000; www.victorygardens.org; $20-$25. Runs through: Sept. 21
Don't be fooled by the publicity promoting this adaptation of The Seagull as a deconstructive farce on the order of Inspecting Carol. Aaron Posner's surprisingly smart gloss on Anton Chekhov's seminal 19th-century Russian drama reads more as live-action script analysis, tracking its source's subtextual dynamics unencumbered by period social and environmental factors.
The entourage attached to popular film and TV actress Emma Arkadina may now dwell in the modern world, but what remains the same is their inability to express what's on their minds, making for utterances riddled with verbal place-holders like "you know," "sort of" and that favorite modifier, "fuck." ( The title of the play derives from someone asking Conrad if the dead fowl he carries is a seagull, to which he replies, "I don't know! It's a stupid fucking BIRD!" ) To combat these obstacles, Posner graciously orchestrates opportunities for soliloquies launchedand frequently interruptedfrom the obsessively egotistical introspection currently in fashion, and for occasional assertions worded in echolalic affirmations of objectives. His characters also revel in the candor rendered permissible by relaxed post-millennium artistic censorshipstripping down to their underwear when pursuit of their goals deems such tactics necessary.
These goals, ironically, are likewise unvaryinglending fresh credence to author Doyle Trigorin's assertion that nothing be declared worthy of consideration until it has endured for a hundred years. Conrad, Emma's playwright son, may professin rants of operatic proportionsto change the world through art, but his agony always ends in his yearning for muse-next-door Nina Zachary. Alack, Nina is groupie-hot for the aforementioned Doyle, who is Emma's unprotesting consort ( though not immune to a mid-life fling with a willing fan ). In the meantime, cook-housekeeper Mash Amberson burns for master Conrad, while nerdy best-buddy Dev Dylan pines for the surly goth-girl servant and old uncle Eugene wonders why he can't share in all the emotional extravagance.
Chekhov has been examined extensively this season, what with being sent to Afghanistan and relocated to Lincoln Park ( with more to come in 2015 ), but never does Posner's irreverent insights or those of the intrepid ensemble secured for this Sideshow Theatre production stoop to juvenile mockery, even during such verging-on-caricature spectacles as a baroque full-cast oratorio of "I want" testimonials, or the gloomy serenades of the ukulele-plucking Mash. The results may not fulfill Conrad's dream of inspiring us to "live better or fuller," but they go far to redeem decades of scholarly obfuscation and misguided reverence imposed upon Chekhov's bemused look at his foolish contemporaries.