Seagull, Redmoon Theater, at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Last summer in Humboldt Park, Redmoon staged the first of three versions of The Seagull, using vaudevillian clowning instead of words to convey Chekhov's story of ceaseless longing. The disappointing result, Nina, lacked nuance and depth but was visually stimulating. This second take uses the same actors in the same parts, builds on Nina's jerky rhythms, and adds just the essential text. Though director Jim Lasko's second adaptation offers no new insights into the play, it is joyfully entertaining, stripped-down but not too much.
The ensemble's eloquent physicality makes explicit emotions that Chekhov only hints at, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on one's view of Chekhov. And in this production, the play that Chekhov called a comedy actually is a comedy. An optimist, Lasko centers the show on Nina (Vanessa Stalling), the naive young actress struggling for survival, instead of the doomed Kostya (Jim Slonina). Kostya loves Nina, Nina loves Trigorin (Blake Montgomery), and Masha (Sharon Lanza), gloomy daughter of the estate manager, loves Kostya.
Redmoon throws Chekhov's questions about fame and the purpose of art into high relief by framing them as issues between vain "theater makers" (like the Chicago theater establishment, one presumes) and sensitive "puppeteers" (like Redmoon). In Stephanie Nelson's dazzling, delightful set design, whole rooms unfold from boxes that are part of the pillars in another room.