BWW Review: Austin Shakespeare Presents a Wonderful Adaption of Anton Chekhov's THE SEAGULL in Austin, TX
Austin Shakespeare known predominantly for their love of the renaissance, jumps to the turn of the century Russian dramatist, Anton Chekhov, for his beloved play THE SEAGULL. Set aside a lake, our cast of characters desperately seek happiness despite the tragedy that befalls them during the play. Beginning with a play within a play, Konstantin (played by Andrew Matthews) is pining over his latest production and his love of the Russian countryside girl next store, Nina (play by Corinna Browning). Plagued by uncertainty, Konstantin debuts his original work to his family and house workers to receive mixed reviews from the onlookers and nasty commentary from his actress mother, Irina (played by Tyler Layton). Presenting all the relationships at once in the lakeside audience of Konstantin's play, all members seem to have mixed intentions with each other, with a majority of the characters loving the wrong person. Nina, the Russian countryside girl next door and hopeful actress, ends up falling in love with a famous novelist Trigorin (played by Matt Radford Davies) attached to Irina, Konstantin's mother. Within the premise of love and ego, Austin Shakespeare brilliantly found Chekhov's comedy within the presented character relationship and premise. The tragedy that unravels offstage to our cast of characters is equally as heart-breaking when reflecting on the hope our characters began with.
Austin Shakespeare's ability to bring life to classic pieces of theatre is no easy feat. Director Ann Ciccolella created a dynamic and delightful experience utilizing the comedy written by Chekhov and the tragedy ingrained in his storytelling. Setting the mood and utilizing the space, Austin Shakespeare invited audience members to walk by THE SEAGULL's prop tables on the way into the theatre. With sound playing of rolling tides, the large stage was complemented by this added charm. High above the stage hangs a very pretty moon, symbolizing the twilight our characters find themselves in lakeside at the top of the show. Scenic designer Christopher Hejl filled this space very well with the dynamic use of set pieces. The flow should be attributed not only to excellent pacing of the cast, but the scenic design creating the world our characters live in. As the preceding scene echoes through the quick transitions, the staging allowed the tension to build and the audience to reflect on our character's individual journey.
Chekhov's action happens mostly offstage, posing challenges to the actors to maintain the tension. Aloof novelist Trigorin (Matt Radford Davies), causes the most mayhem offstage by his actions, sending multiple relationships into chaos. Davies excellently convey's what is at stake for the cast of characters and the consequences of his actions. His navigation of Chekhov's rhetoric showcases his clear talent of storytelling - matching the word with the action, the action with the word, the text takes on new life in the audience's mind. The soliloquies of our characters inner monologue is a great literary technique utilized by Anton Chekhov. Andrew Matthews (playing Konstantin) offers a compelling emotional arch upon the stage, motivated by his desperation to be loved by both Nina (Corinna Browning) and his mother Irina (Tyler Layton). Browning's ingenue was a straight-forward take on this archetypal character but lacked a few layers for her ultimate emotional breakdown. Being responsible for the climax of the show, Chekhov's rhetoric proved difficult for Browning to navigate creating flippant reactions and unrooted realizations. Layton was delightful as she clung to her hubris and poor parenting while fighting for her happiness. Her ability to create a joke with a look or a hand movement displays Layton's seasoned acting ability. This ensemble of players display their creativity with small interactions making big impacts and garnishing unexpected laughter from their audience.
Austin Shakespeare created a wonderful experience with their interpretation of this classic work. THE SEAGULL, traditionally more than four hours, has been condensed to two and a half hours communicating the foundation of Chekhov's work and maintaining the entertainment value. The pace of the show flies with enjoyable interactions and heartbreaking finality. Highly recommended for Chekhov-head's or literary lover's looking to get their feet wet, Austin Shakespeare delivers a delightful and well-rounded rendition of this classic work.
BY: Anton Chekhov
ADAPTED BY: Ann Ciccolella
ROLLINS THEATRE (The Long Center for the Performing Arts - 701 W. Riverside Dr.)
FEB. 8TH - 25TH (Thursday - Saturdays 7:30PM, Sunday 3:00PM)
thelongcenter.org or call (512) 474-5664
Photo Credit: Errich Petersen