Metro Weekly

Michael Mayer brings Chekhov classic “The Seagull” to the screen

The noted Broadway director -- and one time Bethesda native -- somehow makes Chekhov's work feel even more modern

The Seagull

According to Michael Mayer, it was Tom Hulce’s idea to turn The Seagull into a movie. Hulce, well-known for his breathtaking portrayal of Mozart in 1984’s Amadeus, had given up acting years ago in favor of producing, and was mulling over bringing Anton Chekhov’s classic to the screen.

“He mentioned that he’d been holding onto this idea for a while,” recalls Mayer, a friend and collaborator of Hulce’s for many years. “We started brainstorming in a kind of dream scenario way, as one does. And I said, ‘Wouldn’t Annette Bening be just terrific?'”

To their surprise, Bening agreed to take on the central role of Irina Arkadina, an aging, intensely self-absorbed Russian actress, and the project fell into place. Playwright Stephen Karam (The Humans) meticulously adapted the work for the screen, and

According to Michael Mayer, it was Tom Hulce’s idea to turn The Seagull into a movie. Hulce, well-known for his breathtaking portrayal of Mozart in 1984’s Amadeus, had given up acting years ago in favor of producing, and was mulling over bringing Anton Chekhov’s classic to the screen.

“He mentioned that he’d been holding onto this idea for a while,” recalls Mayer, a friend and collaborator of Hulce’s for many years. “We started brainstorming in a kind of dream scenario way, as one does. And I said, ‘Wouldn’t Annette Bening be just terrific?'”

To their surprise, Bening agreed to take on the central role of Irina Arkadina, an aging, intensely self-absorbed Russian actress, and the project fell into place. Playwright Stephen Karam (The Humans) meticulously adapted the work for the screen, and Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Corey Stoll, Mare Winningham, Brian Dennehy, and newcomer Billy Howle filled out the cast. Theater legend Ann Roth designed the understated yet elegant costumes and Matthew Lloyd, slated to shoot the Spider-Man sequel, provided the film’s sumptuous, burnished look. The result is a movie that feels like a throwback to the days when cinema allowed a story to simmer, punctuated by great performances and instances of deep, thought-provoking wisdom.

, and newcomer Billy Howle filled out the cast. Theater legend Ann Roth designed the understated yet elegant costumes and Matthew Lloyd, slated to shoot the Spider-Man sequel, provided the film’s sumptuous, burnished look. The result is a movie that feels like a throwback to the days when cinema allowed a story to simmer, punctuated by great performances and instances of deep, thought-provoking wisdom.

The Seagull

 

Mayer has been in the film director’s chair before, with 2004’s A Home at the End of the World and 2006’s Flicka, but is better known as one of Broadway’s top directors, having helmed Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and the 2014 Tony-winning revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The openly gay Bethesda native was drawn to The Seagull‘s universal takes on the hazards of love.

The Seagull is all about love,” he says. “Chasing after love and it finding you — or not finding you — and being in love with the wrong person. It’s about all of love’s permutations — the beauty of it and the heartbreak, and the comedy and tragedy of it, all mixed together.”

While Chekhov has never felt antiquated, Mayer’s film somehow makes the work feel even more modern. The director notes the Russian playwright broke with the accepted playwriting traditions of his time and “wrote fully rounded characters that are human and humanistic. He’s got a very inclusive view of the world and a very generous view of people. He’s not judgmental. That’s very resonant right now. It’s something that we need, to be much more generous in the way that he is towards people, and to see what we have in common rather than the things that separate us and divide us.”

The Seagull opens Friday, May 18, at the Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema and the Angelika Film Center Mosaic.

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.