Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review - The Seagull

The Seagull

Produced by NAPA
Director: Zia Mohyeddin
Cast: Rahat Kazmi, Talat Hussain, Arshad Mahmud, Nyla Jaffri, Nimra Bucha, Ayman Tariq, Bakhtawar Mazhar, Saqib Khan
Venue: Karachi Arts Council
September 26th - October 5th

A suitable introduction to The Seagull, for the uninitiated, would be Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”, a brilliant and affectionate pastiche of the Russian literary oeuvre from which I quote the following, “Alexei loves Tatiana like a sister. I’m in love with Alexei. He loves Alicia. Alicia’s having an affair with Lev. Lev loves Tatiana. Tatiana loves Simkin. Simkin loves me. I love Simkin, but in a different way than Alexei. Tatiana’s sister loves Trigorian like a brother. Trigorian’s brother is having an affair with my sister, who he likes physically, but not spiritually.”

It’s a spoof, but only just. NAPA’s Seagull, directed by Zia Mohyeddin and starring an onslaught of theatre heavyweights (including the triple whammy of Arshad Mahmud, Talat Hussain and Rahat Kazmi), largely succeeds in presenting the wreckage of disappointment, unrequited love, dashed hope and missed opportunity that is life. And, like life, it’s surprisingly entertaining in spite of the inevitable misery.

Saqib Khan as young playwright Konstantine is a portrait of juvenile pretension and sentimentality, all but castrated by the enormous presence of his self-involved stage diva mother Irina (Bakhtawar Mazhar).While Mazhar is savage and witty at times she's not always at ease with Irina’s vast personality. The role is magnificent, the performance however, stops short of this and is just enjoyably serviceable. There's only so much attention to go around, and her son gets very little. The only cure to Angry Young Man-itis, Chekhov wisely notes, is a bullet to the head, which Konstantine manages to botch later in the play. One reason for his suicide attempt is his failed courtship of his lovely young neighbour Nina (Ayman Tariq), who has a grating exuberance about her that Tariq is sadly unable to translate into charm. Konstantine is desired by Masha (Nyla Jaffri), who gets off to a slow start (to be fair, she gets the clunkiest dialogue of the first act) but settles in about halfway through and is poignantly, matter-of-factly unhappy thereafter. Polina, Masha’s mother, is played by the compelling Nimra Bucha, who desires Dr Dorn (Hussain and more on him later). She bristles exquisitely with resentment, even her most innocuous, ‘off-duty’ moments twitch with hostility following his rejection.

Consummated passion fares no better. Nina is captivated by the charms of popular novelist Trigorin (Rahat Kazmi), Irina’s lover, but the ensuing affair leaves her devastated. If Tariq had given a finer performance the audience may have been inspired to sympathise rather than gloat; besides, so foul is her slime-green velour gown in the last act that I, for one, was unable to concentrate on her lines at all. Kazmi’s worldy, oddly vulnerable, and cautiously careless Trigorin is, on the other hand, genius. You can tell this man’s ears and toes are in character. When he sets up their Moscow rendezvous his reticence and desire are perfectly balanced, his tone and bearing alone telling you everything you need to know about how this affair will progress. Veteran Mahmud, as Irina’s brother Sorin, outside this grid of criss-crossed desire, is warmly engaging.

While The Seagull is darkly humorous throughout, the unscripted comic relief comes in the form of Dr Dorn as played by Thespus Maximus Hussain. Although he pitches the play’s closing line perfectly, the actor is otherwise astoundingly, painfully stylised, not lapsing into caricature so much as occasionally lapsing out of it. Still, this is a minor glitch in a solidly directed production that does a good job with a terribly important play about the terrible unimportance of life. Full points to the set designers Anjum Ayaz and Tanveer Abbas, for their elegant Russian interior, complete with portrait of Pushkin. The less said about the wardrobe department the better.

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