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BWW Reviews: THE SEAGULL Flies High for Antaeus

The Seagull
by Anton Chekhov
directed by Andrew J. Traister
translation by Paul Schmidt
@ Antaeus Company
through April 15

As in all Chekhov plays, characters long for what they cannot have. They experience unrequited love, or must accept sharing that love with another as opposed to the complete loss of it. In The Seagull, Chekhov also takes the opportunity to examine theatre in its varied forms, both traditional and new. Known for mounting classic theatre with a professionalism like no other in Los Angeles, the Antaeus Company once again proves its integrity and much appreciated artistry in their newest production of The Seagull currently on stage in NoHo through April 15. Plays at Antaeus have double casts and the one I saw was for the most part, absolutely stellar.

What is most attractive about Chekhov, apart from his very human characters, is the fact that you could find these people anywhere at any time. 19th century Russia is naturally where we find them, but their failings and desires are as timely as ever. When Masha's (brilliant Avery Clyde) torment at loving Constantine Treplev (Joe Delafield) to no avail overtakes her, she decides to marry schoolteacher Medvedenko (Patrick Wenk-Wolff), not because she is enamored of him, but, to the contrary, because she sees no alternative to her unhappiness. If she is going to be unhappy, she might as well be miserable. Chekhov, like George Bernard Shaw, saw the sheer folly of marriage as a happy union. He also poked fun at teachers, who he obviously saw as lower class citizens, forever poor, with no outward signs of success. And funny! Chekhov really knows how to make us laugh out loud, as his characters express their boredom or particular aggravation in an over-the-top, no holds barred manner. Take for example, Arkadina (Laura Wernette substituting in this cast for an ailing Gigi Bermingham)), a legit actress and irritatingly unlikeable prima dona, who gets what she wants when she wants it, and when she doesn't, is not afraid to demonstrate it, like constantly rebuking - both verbally and physically - her son Constantine for what she calls his total lack of talent as a playwright. Treplev is as sincere and driven about his heady visions as Trigorin (Adrian LaTourelle) is uncertain of his own self worth as a famed writer. All of these inner and outer feelings clash against each other, creating obstacles and conflicts that are universally dramatic themes.
The ensemble is great under Andrew J. Traister's fluid direction. Wernette is imperiously and deliciously egotistical a la Sarah Bernhardt, Delafield totally believable as the dejected 'outcast' Treplev and Clyde, astounding throughout as the determined Masha. The beautiful Jules Willcox makes a stunning Nina in her early scenes, but somehow, in the last scene, when she returns in utter despair, I wanted to be blown away, but was not. Although technically on target, her sadder but wiser Nina needs more depth. Praise as well to Gregory Itzin as Sorin, John Achorn as Shamrayev, Reba Waters - so good as she lusts for another man, James Sutorius as Dorn and Bonnie Snyder spunky with her small role as the maid. The Lechetti Design does lovely work with the set decor. I especially loved the rising moon in Act I.

Chekhov's Seagull has many layers, both dramatic and comedic. He writes with such clarity about a writer's increasing insecurities and about an actor's boredom when away from the stage- one cannot live with it or without it. Such contradictory, yet understandably valid emotions for Bohemians! And to what extremes a human being will venture because of love - or better still, the lack of it - is not better expressed by any writer, living or deceased. Antaeus has overall mounted a visually riveting and emotionally telling production.

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