At a pop-up theatre at 270 King St. West at Duncan, Toronto. Ont.
Written by Aaron Posner
Sort of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Vinetta Strombergs
Set and lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Christine Urquhart
Cast: Rachel Cairns
A wonderfully stylish production thanks to director Vinetta Strombergs and her dandy cast, of this impish, thoughtful and moving adaptation by Aaron Posner of Chekhov’s play.
The Story. You don’t need to know Chekhov’s play closely to appreciate Aaron Posner’s smart, witty, perceptive, impish, moving play. Unrequited love pretty well sums it up with a few words about art, theatre, pretentious theatre, and the next new thing. Conrad is a would-be-playwright who loves Nina, who wants to be an actress. Nine loves Conrad until she sees Trigorin, a successful writer, whereupon she is smitten and so is Trigorin for a little while. Trigorin is the companion of Emma Arkadina, a successful actress. She is possessively passionate for Trigorin and God help anyone who gets in her way, even Trigorin. Mash loves Conrad but he only has eyes for Nina. Dev loves Mash but she barely tolerates him. Mash plays the ukulele. How sad is that! And Dr. Eugene Sorn, Emma’s brother and a doctor, looks on all this with wistfulness, a touch of melancholy, but generally good spirits and a kind heart. Got all that? And it’s a comedy.
The Production. The production takes place in a spacious pop-up theatre that used to be a golf store. There are four acts that take place in various parts of the site. Director Vinetta Strombergs directs the acts with a clear idea of how to best serve the audience. There are several pillars in the site and negotiating the audience to see properly is an added extra with this space.
The audience sits in rolling office chairs which they take from location to location in the play. Photos of interesting vistas are on the walls. It is definitely set in the present day. The set by Steve Lucas is stylish and ultra modern. The first scene is by the lake of Emma’s family estate. The audience sits around a wood platform/stage ready to watch Conrad’s play. Emma and her entourage sit in front of the audience as if they are part of it.
Another scene takes place in the kitchen late at night where characters meet, sometimes furtively, sometimes by accident. There is a large table, a counter and a fridge that gets a lot of action. People are getting drinks, making drinks, boiling a kettle to make what I think is a hot toddy. Strombergs uses the space so well and imaginatively. No prop is there for its own sake. It’s used, incorporated into the action. Smart. Strombergs also directs her cast to ring every shred of torn emotion from the situation. The floor is practically dripping with each character’s ennui as they pine hopelessly for the one they love but doesn’t return it. However we don’t feel rung out in sympathy—that’s not Chekhov or Posner. At times you want to yell, “Get a grip and get on with it.”
Sarah Orenstein, as Emma Arkadina, has seen it all, got through it and now thinks most of it is boring, certainly her pretentious son. They wrangle. Emma lets Conrad have it regarding his insecurity, his condescension of her and for his incomprehensible play. Daniel Maslany as Conrad, gives as good as he gets, but he is outmatched by his mother. He flings insults, well articulated to be sure, but you just see a young man desperate to make his way on his own, but being put down by his mother. When Emma has it out with Trigorin about leaving her, Orenstein is blazing and formidable.
I’m not sure why Craig Lauzon plays Trigorin so that he looks like a biker, with his head fully covered in a bandana, wearing jeans, boots a leather vest and a t-shirt. That seems an odd choice. Rachel Cairns as Masha is beautifully morose, quick witted, and even sweet in her desperate love for Conrad. Karen Knox is not demure as Nina, but a seductive, yet charming woman who is smart and knows how to go after what she wants, until she comes up against Emma Arkadina.
Richard Greenblatt as Dr. Eugene Sorn hides his doubts about the purpose of life well. He comments with kindness. He sees past the emotion of a character to the heart of their being. Brendan Hobin plays Dev as a quiet yet eager young man who will do anything to win Mash’s love. He doesn’t pine as the others do, but he is tenacious in his devotion to Mash.
While Chekhov’s play looks at the emotional goings on and angst of his characters, he does it with humour. These people are funny. But Posner and certainly Strombergs direction, brings out the gut twisting sadness as each character tries to win their hearts’ desire. It’s still funny.
In a couple of instances, Conrad comes to a cross-roads and doesn’t know what to do so he asks the audience for advice. Daniel Maslany as Conrad is very serious in wanting the advice, he’s also very quick-witted when dealing with the give and take with the audience which makes it hilarious. It’s particularly funny if you know the play, because Conrad does exactly what Chekhov says he does, so never mind the audience’s suggestions. Interestingly, in my audience no one suggested Conrad do what Chekhov said he should do. No matter. It is still funny.
Comment. Aaron Posner has written a very funny take on Chekhov’s The Seagull, and put his own spin on it. The result is fresh, lively, perceptive about the human heart, in tune with today’s world, and beautifully moving.
The Bird Collective Presents:
From: Feb. 28, 2017.
Saw it: March 4, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 7; 4 men, 3 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes approx.