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Drowning Crow

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Drowning Crow, Goodman Theatre. No one can accuse playwright Regina Taylor of disrespecting Chekhov. While other adapters of classics may toss the original structure out the window, Taylor follows Chekhov's 1896 drama The Seagull almost line for line. Despite a contemporary setting--among the Gullah people on the Sea Islands off South Carolina, where a multimedia performance artist battles for his artistic life with his celebrity-actress mother and her sitcom-creating lover--much of Chekhov's dialogue and all the action remain intact.

Taylor's only significant alteration is to replace the great modernist's celebrated restraint with an overload of passion: lovers' tiffs become screaming arguments, insecurities become pathologies, seductions become sex scenes. This methodical overkill turns the "ordinary life" that fascinated Chekhov into ordinary melodrama. Under Kate Whoriskey's none-too-subtle direction, characters spend much of their time issuing emotional proclamations rather than relating to others in recognizably human ways. With Chekhov's ingenious subtext jettisoned and no nuanced relationships among the characters, the stage becomes a crowd of strangers rather than an integrated ensemble.

Perhaps most disappointing is the near total disregard for contemporary Gullah culture and politics. Like Chekhov's dispossessed gentry, the Gullahs have been forced to the brink of annihilation by economic change, a reality that's invisible here save for an older woman who wanders about singing hymns and impersonating the salt of the earth.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Liz Lauren.

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