The Notebook of Trigorin | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Notebook of Trigorin

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The Notebook of Trigorin, Open Eye Productions, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Tennessee Williams's "free adaptation" of The Seagull--which he called "the first and greatest modern play"--is arguably his last great drama, yet it almost never saw the light of day. The Vancouver Playhouse commissioned the work to open its 1981 season, but by the time rehearsals began, Williams had written only a few fragmentary scenes. When he finally delivered the script, the cast felt he'd turned Chekhov's nuanced masterpiece into melodrama and restored the original ending when Williams left town after the opening.

Williams worked on The Notebook of Trigorin until his death in 1983, and then it took director Stephen Hollis 13 years to secure permission from the playwright's estate to produce it. While Williams certainly coarsened Chekhov's original, making explicit all of his ingeniously implicit conflict, he did so without compromising the characters' emotional veracity. And given the heat of the passions boiling just beneath the story's surface, Williams's interpretation could make for thrilling theater.

Unfortunately, Open Eye's staging is too awkward to unlock those thrills. Jon C. Sevigny's production oddly combines under- and overacting, the costume design is jumbled, and the stage design is nonexistent. Without a credible stage world or compelling ensemble, this two-and-a-half-hour show feels like a collection of odds and ends. The performances become recognizably human only in the last of Williams's four acts, which means its affecting scenes seem to spring from nowhere.

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