1/13/09

Divinity and decay: The Seagull


In a sentence: The set means to believe in theater. All the politics, all the wars, all of our problems, one thing will remain — a belief in theater.
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János Szász, director of The Seagull at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge
Readers here will know that I have a love of icons. One of, or even perhaps the most well known of all icons is Andrei Rublev's, The Trinity (above). Here's a story from the Arts section of the Boston Sunday Globe for January 11. Regardless of how successful an interpretation of Chekhov this might be, the set work is breathtaking.
A 200,000-year-old abandoned theater, a sense of the divine, images of decay - these are some of the ideas that drove innovative Hungarian director János Szász's imagination when visualizing the set for Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull." The drama about a family whose members gather to watch a play and whose loves and lives are transformed as a result is now in previews at the American Repertory Theatre.

Szász teamed up once again with set designer Riccardo Hernandez, with whom he had collaborated on "Desire Under the Elms," "Marat/Sade," and "Uncle Vanya" at the ART, and they thought intensely about the story line, which includes a play within a play: the character Konstantin's experimental drama that looks 200,000 years into the future.


(Note: this is the set, not audience seating.)

The first image they came up with was puddles of water and rain inside a desolate, crumbling theater space. Vegetation sprouts through the cracks. The aim was to represent the lost ritual of theater amid a changing society.

Inspired by the atmosphere of Yale Repertory Theatre, which is based in a former church, they then thought about capturing the essence of the divine, a feeling of hope they wanted to transmit to the audience of "The Seagull."

"Riccardo is living in New Haven, and I for so long wanted to see this theater," Szász explains. "Riccardo took me to Yale Rep, which is in a church. And that was it! This was the missing element from the concept. A feeling: belief."

To convey this feeling, the set features vast murals drawing on the work of the great medieval icon painter Andrei Rublev, hovering above the stage.

The design also features dripping water, chandeliers, and rows of threadbare seats that move to accommodate a lake scene and other scenes that take place in a house, including one in a bedroom. Like all of Szász's productions, "The Seagull" promises to draw audiences in, watching the premiere of Konstantin's visionary drama and its aftermath.

(For more images of the set, see Sunday's Boston Globe)

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