The Seagull's 1896 world premiere was a massive critical failure (John Simon was especially rough). The passing years, however, have revealed Chekhov's play for what it really is: a delicate, melancholy masterwork of deep compassion, disguised as a comedy of manners. There was plenty of comedy to be found in the American Globe Theater's version, but you'd have to look hard to locate the melancholia.
The setting? The country estate of one Peter Sorin (Warren Watson), a bored former civil servant. His nephew Konstantine (Dennis Turney), a fledgling writer, is presenting his play on the premises. The event draws together a group of people who in turn bring with them "tons of love," as Chekhov wrote in one of his letters describing the play. Foremost among the visitors is Konstantine's mother Irina (Franca Barchiesi), a popular actress; her lover Trigorin (Richard Fay), an even more popular novelist; Eugene Dorn (David Aston-Reese), the local doctor; Shamreyeff (Tim McDonnell), who manages Sorin's estate; Shamreyeff's wife Polina (Jane Titus), who's having an affair with Dr. Dorn. Nina (Melissa Hill), daughter of one of Sorin's neighbors, is appearing in Konstantine's play. She is loved by both Konstantine and, later on, Trigorin. Shamreyeff's daughter Masha (Mary Kathryn Caplin) is infatuated with Konstantine. But she must settle for Medvedenko (John Moss), a dull schoolmaster and the object of Masha's scorn. "Tons of love" indeed; more like a nonstop avalanche.
Director John Basil saw fit to create an atmosphere of general hysteria for much of the play. There was a great deal of shouting and mincing from the cast. Granted, this was all very amusing, but the cost to the production was prohibitive: the highjinks inhibited the growth of empathy for most of these people; they appeared to be infantile, silly-ass ninnies. In the process, the play's rueful subtext was crushed beneath tons of farce. Not that there's anything wrong with farce - indeed, the cast was highly adept at it. ButThe Seagull cries out for something more, something that would elevate the play to a higher level. It was not until near the end, specifically the scene between Konstantine and Nina (who has by now fallen on hard times), that the play became genuinely moving. At this moment, The Seagull achieved full flight. The rest of the time, what we got was a perfectly competent, mainly slapstick enterprise that harbored little if any poignancy.
Among the production's most notable achievements were the exceptionally pretty period costumes of Terry Leong. The sets, replete with a handsome winding staircase - the American Globe seem to have a fondness for them - were by Vincent A. Masterpaul, and they were simple and evocative. Paul J. Ascenzo composed the attractive period music. J. Reid Farrington's lighting was likewise pleasing. The text was smoothly adapted by Nikos Psacharapoulos. (Also featuring Rachel O'Neill and Douglas Wunsch.)
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Copyright 2000 Steve Gold