Anton Chekhov's cosmic joke of a dark comedy was reduced to a shallow soap opera by the usually exceptional Gallery Players. This Seagull was played strictly for laughs, ignoring the tragic underpinnings that bring empathy to the sometimes tiresome characters. The contemporary translation (uncredited), while breezy and fast-moving, lacked inner life, causing the real depression of a number of characters to come off as whininess. Director Jennifer Evans Ward glossed over the dark side of most of the characters, encouraging posturing and posing rather than the honest emotion needed to make these characters come alive.
Friends and family have gathered at the country estate of the elderly, depressed Sorin. His sister, Arkadina, an actress, arrives with her latest lover, the writer Trigorin, in tow. Arkadina's young son, Konstantin, is trying his luck as a writer, only to be abused by his insecure mother and patronized by the successful, boorish Trigorin. Konstantin has fallen in love with Nina, a local girl who dreams of becoming an actress. He casts her in his new play, performed in Sorin's backyard. Trigorin soon seduces the innocent Nina away from Konstantin, driving the young man to attempt suicide. After a short affair, Trigorin abandons Nina, destroying her in the process, and returns to Arkadina. Konstantin's next suicide attempt is successful. Masha, the young daughter of Sorin's overseer, is in love with Konstantin. Rebuffed by him, she becomes resolutely depressed, wearing black, taking snuff, and overindulging in vodka. To distract herself, she marries the poor, but incredibly kind, Medvedenko, whom she treats with contempt. Her mother, Paulina, has endured an unhappy marriage to the crude Shamrayev and has drifted into a hopeless affair with Dorn, the town doctor, who has no interest in a permanent relationship.
The talented cast for the most part substituted mannerisms for reality, with the exception of the few veteran performers, who obviously knew better. Joshua Zisholtz's whiny, overphysicalized Konstantin was devoid of honest emotion, and Kathryn Zamora-Benson's Nina was reduced to a giggling bumpkin, until her later scenes, when her actor's instincts clicked in, finally getting to the heart of her complicated character. Joy Besozzi was a glamorous, self-absorbed Arkadina, and David Koppel was all sleazy, boyish charm as Trigorin.
Ann Burrows's Masha had power and energy, but sabotaged herself with Rosie O'Donnell-style pouting. George Sosa's Medvedenko was a gentle foil to everyone else's machinations. John Montgomery's Dorn revealed all of the doctor's coldness but barely hinted at his legendary charm. Roy Sorrels was appropriately crass as Shamrayev. Sidney Fortner's gentle, frustrated Paulina was heartbreaking, and totally believable, as was R. Paul Hamilton's pathetic, beautifully realized Sorin. Ken Dray was extremely likable in the small role of Yakov.
Gallery's exemplary production values continue to amaze. Set designer Keven Lock deserves the highest praise for his cozy, romantic set, and Todd Reemtsa's gorgeous lights evoked some of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. Emily C. B. Horton outfitted the cast in colorful, elegant ensembles that provided ease of movement. Andrew Recinos's lively period music and chilling storm sounds added to the immediacy of the proceedings.
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Copyright 2001 Julie Halpern