Last night, I went to the first preview of The Assembly's new piece, SEAGULLMACHINE, at La MaMa. According to the company's website:
The Assembly’s newest performance smashes together two iconic riffs on the Hamlet story – Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine – combining theatrical realism, immersive staging, live video, poetry, comedy and tragedy to excavate the legacy of 20th-century drama in the light of the present-day, and ask: What’s the good of making theater anyway?
If you're expecting a full-on mash-up of The Seagull and Hamletmachine, however, that's not what this is. The audience is led into the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, past the risers where they would usually sit, into a specially built mini-theater, with a three-quarters-round seating area at the back of the regular stage.
Sitting here for the first half of the show, they watch what is a pretty traditional production of the first three acts of The Seagull. There are a few avant-garde touches, such as a chrome-looking sculpture being used for the seagull that Konstantin shoots, and some video monitors showing the area behind the stage, but for the most part, it's not too different from any production of The Seagull you would expect to see in the Village these days.
After the intermission break, the audience returns to their seats for the final act of The Seagull, which is performed in roughly the same style, until we get to the last line, and the performance transforms into Muller's Hamletmachine. The two plays might seem to be an odd pairing, but the pieces are both variations on Hamlet. As a program note for the performance argues:
Both plays are, of course, haunted by Shakespeare's Hamlet. In The Seagull, a young artist-intellectual unsettled by his mother's new partner and his own troubled relationship, utilizes a boldly experimental play-within-a-play as a weapon against the mores of his parents' generation. In Hamletmachine, the figure of Hamlet reckons with the failures of his art and idealism to transform the world, and endeavors to destroy the theater once and for all.
Muller's Hamletmachine is notoriously open to interpretation in terms of how it should be performed, but The Assembly uses this to their advantage, having Konstantin (Jax Jackson) double as the Hamlet figure, Nina (Layla Khosh) as Ophelia, Trigorin (Ben Beckley) as Claudius, and Arkadina (Nehassaiu deGannes) as Gertrude.
For the end of the show, the audience is also led out of the mini-theater where they had been sitting into a space where the performance can truly become immersive. Wear comfortable shoes, and don't be afraid to leave your bags and coats at your seat. (They'll let you get back to them. I promise!)
SEAGULLMACHINE is running until May 5th. If you're interested in going, check out The Assembly's website here: