Review: ‘The Seagull and Other Birds’ by Pan Pan Theatre at San Francisco International Arts Festival

By Christine Okon

Audiences booed Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1896. Its head-on foray into the nature of art, creation, society, and relationships was not expected or understood. The characters in “The Seagull” churn in their own spheres of longing in a world that is not linear or tidy. Love is unrequited, failures ensues, dreams are dashed, and souls collide.

But, like islands born from lava in combat with the sea, new audiences emerged to embrace new forms.

This energy of creation sparks Pan Pan Theatre Company’s production of “The Seagull and Other Birds.” Like a seagull that patrols the coast to find unlikely sources of food, this award-winning Irish theater company uses Chekhov’s play as a point of departure to discover “other birds” — other forms of inspiration. Pan Pan Theatre Company scavenges from cultures across time and space — unexpected and fun images that reverberate in your memory, images that must be perceived but not over thought, as from a strange and compelling dream.

Upon entering the theater, we see all cast members on stage, warming up and stretching in pink and white ballet garb, tutus and all, creating an ironic image for what’s to come. We are given a sheet with the lyrics to “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats and are asked to sing along, dissuading one from accepting the kind of same-old, same-old feeling that Mondays bring. This is going to be a new ride, a kaleidoscope of movement, dance, erotic tableaus, rap, Luche Libre masks, and even a type of reality show where audience members are selected to interact with the cast on stage which becomes a dynamic canvas of innovation.

The seagull is not the only bird. “Other birds” loosely suggest points of divergence marked by hand drawn and hand held posters. There is “The Seagull,” Chekhov’s metaphor for failed love and aspiration. “The Shag” (Cormorant). The indomitable Arctic Tern. The huge and opportunistic Herring Gull. The “other birds” are facets or essence of characters: the dreamer Nina, literally running away from tethers, the despondent playwright Konstantin, the jaded author Trigorin, and the dark Masha —are present as suggestions of traits and dynamics.

Seeing “The Seagull and Other Birds” is a visceral, kinetic, and chaotic experience that seems oddly comfortable in this moving, hyperlinked, fragmented, yet oddly cohesive world.

‘Seagull and Other Birds’ can be seen for one more performance on May 28, at the Cowell Theatre. For further information click here.

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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4 stars

“The Seagull and Other Birds,” performed by Pan Pan Theatre, plays at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, 2 Marina Blvd May 26-28.  More information: www.sfiaf.org

A scene from The Seagull and Other Birds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6a3wiSlziY

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“The Seagull and Other Birds” by Pan Pan Theatre. Produced for the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Director: Gavin Quinn. Set & Lighting Desinger: Aedin Cosgrove. Assistant Director: Maeve Stone. Production Manager: Robert Usher. Stage Manager Triona Humphries. Costumes: Grace O’Hara. 

 

Cast:

Andrew Bennett, Una McKevitt, Gina Moxley, Daniel Reardon, Judith Roddy, Dick Walsh.

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