BWW Reviews: Don't Check Out on Chekov or His SEAGULL
"Without the theatre, nothing is possible." Words penned by one of the greatest playwrights in theatrical history. And for Anton Chekov's play The Seagull, a show filled with characters deigning to exist as the people they've become, that pinnacle phrase means the world.
American Players Theatre of Spring Green, Wisconsin has taken on the task of performing the lengthy Russian tragedy and has done so with the upmost integrity. Under the keen direction of John Langs, the company of both veteran APT cast members as well as a few new faces, audiences will think nothing of the time that's gone by in the course of the action. With all the wit, charm, wisdom, and truth that Chekov offers to theatregoers, those who climbed the hill to the playing space on August 14th were certainly not disappointed.
Built around the intricate lives of Irina Nikolaevna Arkadina and her son Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplev, as well as those close to them, The Seagull offers a deeper look into what it means to exist rather than to live.
Konstantin spends his time on the stage fretting over whether or not his mother will ever appreciate him for his unique talents as a writer. As the show begins he is preparing to present a play he has written, starring his beloved Nina Mikhaylovna Zarechnaya, tormenting himself with thoughts of disgrace before the curtain even rises. His uncle Pyotr Nikolaevich Sorin attempts numerous times to comfort the young man to no avail. This drawn out scene provides a great deal of insight into how the rest of the action will play out. Relationships and worries of the purpose of self-worth mirror one another throughout the production. Whether Konstantin is concerned about his future, Pyotr is bothered by his past, or the servant Mariya Illnicha is infuriated by the present, each character faces an equally difficult opponent - themselves.
APT's Up the Hill Theatre offers closeness to the action of the stage that many spaces cannot. With a cast like those in The Seagull, such proximity is the key to achieving empathy with its audience. The tears shed by a haunting Nina played by Laura Rook are genuine. In much the same way, the chortles from Pyotr (Robert Spencer) and the snide mannerisms of Irina (Tracy Michelle Arnold) are shockwaves through the rows. What left the most profound impression of every scene in the show, however, was the gleam in the eyes of Christopher Sheard as Konstantin when he asked his momma to help him change his bandage. That brief exchange,
the need for a mother's compassion was heart wrenchingly honest. Truth is what makes Chekov's plays so powerful, so inspiring, and so difficult to conquer. Fortunately for those who are able to partake in this production, the fourteen member cast gives everything they have to this show and it is a well-received endeavor. Luckily for Chekov fans as well, the greatest role written by the Russian playwright for men (Boris Alekseevich Trigorin) has been expertly crafted by Jim Devita who will rouse even the stingiest fan into grinning.
Particularly during a week like this, wherein a brilliant member of the worldwide, theatrical community (Robin Williams) took his own life, The Seagull is more powerful than ever. A show that is nearly one hundred and twenty years old can still bring up even the darkest aspects of human nature. Not a single character is without fear of failure or harboring feelings of worthlessness. These are fears that the characters tend to skirt around and speak of only through subtext. No one will address the real issues at hand with those around them because it's atypical to discuss such matters. Konstantin, for example, only tells his uncle of his fears of letting his mother down out of personal necessity; he cannot see any other course of action. Like the intrinsically placed that appeared as infinity symbols on the hem of Nina's white dress (designed by Holly Payne and her crew), doubt is a never ending cycle in the minds of men.
Chekov had a way with writing characters with sincerity and texture. APT has a way of interpreting complex plays like this one and making them accessible to a modern audience. All in all, this observer will have to agree with the Doctor, Evgeny Semyonovich Medvedenko in saying "I liked that play...it made a deep impression on me."