Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Seagull, Great Lakes Theater Festival

(Laura Perrotta as Arkadina and Andrew May as Trigorin)

Apparently Anton Chekov never heard the proverb “Be careful what you wish for, because you may get it.” The characters in his plays, in particular The Seagull now at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, never get what they wish for.

But if the audience wishes for a solid ensemble production, they do get it, thanks to Drew Barr’s adaptation and direction. And although many of the performers don’t deliver all the nuances inherent in their characters, their shortfall is remarkably consistent across the board, thereby providing a quite seamless, if less than definitive, rendering of this classic.

Of course, we know that the denizens of this play are tormented by dreams unfulfilled. But more than that, they never even seem to stumble by accident into a favorable situation. Virtually every person in this coterie of family and friends is in love with someone who desires another.

And as the symbols accumulate (the shredded flowers, the dead bird, the omnipresent lake that draws them only to leave them terminally dissatisfied), we are immersed in their tragicomic lives, sometimes tittering at their follies and sometimes simply crestfallen.

These are the oppositional delights of Chekov, and the GLTF players do well bringing them to the fore. Laura Perrotta is often entrancing as Arkadina—the sister of Sorin (a cuddly and befuddled Dudley Swetland), who owns the country estate where the play is set, and mommy dearest to her playwright son Treplev.

Playful with her peers and coolly dismissive of her son, Perrotta fashions a rampaging narcissist. But when she attempts to show how she could play a youngster on stage, we don’t see the persistent shadow of her older self, or feel her desperation when she throws herself at the young novelist Trigorin.

Andrew May is a comely depressive as Trigorin, ruing his literary status when compared to the greats and handling a monologue about the torments of writing with understated elegance. But Trig’s negative self-regard should evolve from self-deprecation to arrogance (which it doesn't) giving him a weapon he could wield with passive-aggressive gusto.

As Treplev, Kevin Crouch is quite believable as a young man burning with both an urge to write avant-garde theater and a love for Nina (Gisela Chipe) who is smitten by Trigorin. Treplev’s second act collapse, which matches Nina’s declining fortunes as an actress, doesn’t seem terribly different than his attitude early on, somewhat undermining the climax to come.

One of the most successful doomed couples is comprised of the poor teacher Medvedenko and Masha, the daughter of the estate’s manager. Ian Gould is a pitiable schlub and a likely counterpart to Sara M. Bruner’s excellent brooding Masha, a woman who snorts snuff and gulps vodka while trying to numb herself to mushy Medvedenko and her miserable life.

Russell Metheny’s simple, non-ostentatious set and Fitz Patton’s original music and sound effects, some of which creep up on you and then disappear in a flash, add to the texture of the production.

Indeed, though none of these performances is perfect, they are all perfectly attuned to each other. So while one may wish for more at given moments, there is much to be said for such a finely-tuned ensemble production of one of Chekhov's best.

The Seagull
Through May 2, produced by the
Great Lakes Theater Festival
at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St.,

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