There have been a couple shifts in personnel in the highly anticipated Mike Nichols production of The Seagull which is to grace Central Park this season. Allison Janney, who was to have played Masha, has dropped out due to "other commitments," according to sources close to the production. Recent Oscar winner (for "Pollock") and Angels in America actress Marcia Gay Harden has taken her place.
The other change is behind the scenes. When the production was first announced, Nichols planned on using a translation by playwright Richard Nelson, the author of James Joyce's The Dead and Madame Melville. Since then, Nelson's adaptation has been set aside in favor of one by Tom Stoppard. The precise reason for the switch could not be discerned.
The remainder of the starry cast of the Chekhov staging remains intact. Like in many a past Nichols venture, the cast is packed with marquee names from the lead roles to the most minor supporting part. Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline will head the cast as Arkadina and Trigorin. Also in the cast are Natalie Portman as Nina, Christopher Walken as Sorin, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Konstantin, John Goodman as Shamrayev, Debra Monk as Polina, Stephen Spinella as Medvedyedo and Larry Pine as Dorn.
Walken was missing from the stage for many years before returning in last year's surprise critical hit, James Joyce's The Dead. Hoffman triumphed in a Broadway revival of True West last spring and recently directed Jesus Hopped the A Train, a success Off Broadway. He will direct a new play by Rebecca Gilman at MCC Theatre this coming season.
Monk, last seen on the New York stage in Lincoln Center Theater's The Time of the Cuckoo, will star in Thou Shalt Not, the new Susan Stroman-Harry Connick, Jr., musical this fall. Goodman starred at the Delacorte a couple seasons back in Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Spinella, too, knows the Delacorte, from acting there in Troilus and Cressida. Pine recently starred at Primary Stages in Krisit. *
The new Seagull began with a recent reading of Chekhov's classic held in Mike Nichols' Manhattan apartment, starring Streep and Kline.
Though Nichols has "supervised" various plays in recent years, his last theatre assignment as director was Death and the Maiden. Streep, meanwhile, has been missing from the theatre for even longer. During the 1970s, she appeared in New York City stagings of The Cherry Orchard, Happy End and Taming of the Shrew. She is the winner of two Oscars.
Kline has been slightly more faithful to the boards. Since taking the Tony for The Pirates of Penzance, he has appeared in Hamlet at the Public and, most recently, Ivanov at Lincoln Center Theatre.
The Seagull will begin previews July 24, open Aug. 12 and run through Aug. 19.
—By Robert Simonson