Rare is the theatre experience that leaves multiple intense emotions coursing through one’s veins just as it arrives at the pinnacle of its tragicomic heights. The bizarrely named, fiercely performed The Seagull/Woodstock, NY is perhaps one of the most powerful pieces of stage art I have seen in a long time. My Broadway familiarity lies more in musicals than plays, and yet, I have seen enough of them already to appreciate the sheer voracity of texture and depth of character found housed within the walls of this Chekhov adaptation. The “contemporary reworking” comes by way of a third New Group collaboration between playwright Thomas Bradshaw and director Scott Elliott, after both Intimacy and Burning. Parker Posey and Nat Wolff steal the show in this hilariously vicious dark comedy.
The Seagull/Woodstock, NY begins in a most peculiar, inviting fashion as the actors slowly emerge onstage, exercising and decompressing. One gets the feeling this may be vital for the actual actors themselves to get into the right element for such a heavy show, but I digress. This is merely the first meta moment in a show that constantly pokes fun at itself and those watching the action unfold before them. Sparse, intimate staging requires both actors and stage prop to constantly move as the focal points switch at vital moments. Before long, the entire audience is encouraged to sing along to a harmonious rendition of the classic Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune, “Our House.” Once the table setting comes to a close, our show can began proper at long last.
The entire group, each with singular and distinct personalities and worldviews, are collected at a beautiful retreat in the Hudson Valley with one major event swirling around them. Kevin (Nat Wolff, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns), a passionate budding playwright, is workshopping his first true show with his muse and close friend, Nina (Aleyse Shannon, 2019’s Black Christmas, Beauty). Their relationship is a complicated one, but for Kevin, Nina is pretty much the only person in the world that matters to him, other than his eccentric uncle, Samuel (David Cale, We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time, A Likely Story). Kevin’s Tony-winning, off-kilter mother, Irene (Parker Posey, Josie and the Pussycats, Scream 3), and her cocky, successful author beau, William (Ato Essandoh, Reptile, Altered Carbon), will both be in attendance, along with Kevin’s obsessive bestie, Sasha (Hari Nef, Transparent, Barbie), her vanilla friend, Mark (Patrick Foley, Circle Jerk, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical), Sasha’s argumentative parents, Pauline (Amy Stiller, Just Trust, The Cable Guy) and Darren (Daniel Oreskes, Only Murders in the Building, The Deuce), and Irene’s surprisingly level-headed associate, Dean (Bill Sage, American Psycho, Wrong Turn: The Foundation).
Gossip over the sexless relationship between Kevin and Nina emerges early on through the cloud of cigarette smoke that often follows Sasha in every scene. The way Sasha describes them both left me craving the appearance of the platonic coupling all the more. Wolff plays Kevin as deeply troubled but fiercely committed to his artistic vision. He cares far too much about airy Irene’s opinion; in his nervousness approaching the first performance of his play (the first act anyway, since Nina has a prior engagement to attend), fumbles his emotions in a crescendo of anger. That play itself will doubtless make certain viewers uncomfortable, cutting through tough conversations about masturbation, woke education, and racism. Appropriately, The Seagull/Woodstock, NY as a whole carries trigger warnings—this includes sexual situations, racially offensive language, and depictions of suicide. In this viewer’s opinion anyway, all are handled with a confident voice behind them. The razor-sharp writing perfectly pokes and prods at the uncomfortable, inducing a brand of cringe-comedy that must be seen to be believed.
During the course of The Seagull/Woodstock, NY, complicated, interwoven relationships and pairings rise to the surface. In these combinations, Bradshaw and Elliott find their twisted sweet spots. A strange flirtation begins between William and Nina, fueled by their contrasting experiences that several characters point to as chemistry woven together strictly because of their respective levels of blackness. Pauline and Darren bicker and cause a scene, whilst Sasha and Dean connect over Sasha’s deep-seated, unrequited feelings for Kevin. The core of the show, though, has to be that of Irene and Kevin. Their strange mother/son relationship gets even more complicated in the back half of the show—Wolff and Posey practically explode on one another, as every crack in their connection boils to a breaking point. Even when Irene is more interested in plastic surgery and vagina candles than her own son’s creative expression, she is impossibly captivating to watch.
Costuming is simple, yet defines every character with boldness. Sasha is described in the opening scene as looking like she’s attending a funeral, which accurately describes most of her wardrobe throughout. Irene’s flowery green dress and repeatedly comfy-glam outfits reflects her incredibly self-involved nature. Similarly, intimate staging with few props serves to highlight the importance of all that we actually do see. Everything in front of us serves a purpose. A vital moment in which Nat Wolff’s Kevin tosses a book into the air as its pages scatter about the stage in all directions is a visual that may be permanently burned into my memory. The title itself holds an ominous darkness that only widens the closer this play inches towards its curtain call. As the show itself is careful to point out, good theatre is not always about what we understand; rather, The Seagull/Woodstock, NY makes us feel something extraordinary.
Don’t miss The Seagull/Woodstock, NY, now playing a strictly limited Off-Broadway engagement through April 9th at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). For ticketing information, please visit The New Group website here.