THE NOTEBOOK OF TRIGORIN was the last new play of Tennessee Williams to be produced in his lifetime. It has only received a couple of productions in the US and Canada. I imagine the reason for this is that the play is an adaptation of Chekhov's oft performed THE SEA GULL. Williams has reset the play in the American South. This doesn't do the play any particular damage, but he has made Trigorin, the writer and lover of the egomaniacal actress, Madame Arkadina (why didn't Williams Americanize the names?) the central character and a vehicle for Williams to editorialize on writing and the frustrations of being an artist. Otherwise, the play is a relatively faithful, if coarsened, version of the Chekhov play. It is worth seeing because it is, to some extent, the work of Tennessee Williams -- his version of a play he loved. But it is neither good Williams nor a good version of the original.
The production was at the tiny Finborough Theatre, a major fringe theater above a pub near Earl's Court. I have seen wonderful productions here. This was a first preview, so perhaps things will improve, but my first thought on leaving (at the intervail which I seldom do)was that there had been far too much "acting" going on, particular when the audience is only a couple of feet from the actors. Why is it actors can have such a difficult time playing actors? I thought that this afternoon as I watched Rupert Friend overact as an actor in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED and thought it even more last night as I watched from a couple of feet away Carolyn Backhouse flounce her way through Arkadina like a demented drag queen. Everyone seemed to be playing caricatures of Chekhov's characters. Konstantin was overly hysterical. Dr. Dorn was overly lecherous. Of course director Phil Wilmott, whose work I have greatly admired in the past, is greatly to blame for letting these folks overact. They were acting like they were in a 2000 seat theatre instead of a small room that barely holds fifty people. It was exhausting watching them.
THE NOTEBOOK OF TRIGORIN by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Phil Wilmott. Finborough Theatre, March 30, 2010.