by Lynn on February 1, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anton Chekhov
Adapted by Robert Falls
Based on a translation by George Calderon
Directed by Chris Abraham
Designed by Julie Fox
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Starring: Christine Horne
Marcus Jamin
Tom McCamus
Yanna McIntosh
Tony Nappo
Tara Nicodemo
Eric Peterson
Gregory Prest
Philip Riccio
Tom Rooney
Bahia Watson

 A group of people lurch through life lamenting their lot, looking for love in all the wrong places. It ends disastrously for two people at least.  And it’s a comedy.

The Story.  Arkadina is an actress who comes home from touring to her run-down country estate with her lover, Trigorin, a celebrated writer.  Her unhappy son, Konstantin, who lives on the estate, is in love with Nina, a local girl. Konstantin wants to be a writer but can’t seem to find his voice. He writes an incomprehensible play starring Nina, that he puts on for his mother and friends. It’s a disaster. He shoots a seagull and sets it at her feet as a token of his love for her. Nina becomes ‘the seagull’ of the play, in a sense. Nina falls in love with Trigorin. He might love her superficially but he looks at her really as a means to a short story. It ends badly for her. Everybody else is in love with people who don’t return the affection. And in true Chekhov style it’s a comedy, at least to Chekhov.

We do see the humour as well, of course. Arkadina consistently pleads poverty, but obviously has money. She’s just stingy and selfish. She gives one coin to be shared by three servants as she leaves for Moscow and theatre work. That always gets a laugh.

A forlorn teacher named Medvedenko pines for Masha and she’s just annoyed by him. He asks her why she always wears black. She says she’s in mourning for her life.  Hilarious. I love that line. But he’s confused. He doesn’t know what she means. So she throws her arms out straight to him in frustration that she has to explain it and says “I’m unhappy.”  And Bahia Watson as Masha is hilarious in that moment.

Trigorin is obsessed with writing and gives a beautiful description of it—you can imagine Chekhov saying the same thing.  But if he could, he would be happy spending his whole life fishing.

The Production. Julie Fox’s set is beautiful. The floor is rough wood. Simple, mis-matched furnishings. A tree ‘grows’ among the seats of the audience. Another tree is upstage left. Konstantin’s small writing table is downstage right. Sounds of crickets, nature, loons, and birds melt to produce a cacophony of nature.

It’s directed by Chris Abraham and he has such a sensitive eye. I get the keen impression that he sees this as a play about waiting. As the audience files in Konstantin is on stage, pacing, looking up at the back of the audience, as if expecting someone. His play will be performed soon; he’s waiting for Nina and he’s nervous, impatient and unsettled because his critical mother Arkadina will be watching. All the people in love with someone else are waiting for the situation to change. Medvedenko waits for Masha to love him as he loves her. When they marry (!) he waits for her to come home to their young child. She chooses to spend her time at Arkadina’s house.  Nina waits to be an actress; to get Trigorin to love her. This is about people who have let life pass them by for all the waiting for something good to come along.

Scene changes happen as servants of the estate bring chairs, food and plates onto the stage and set the table for dinner or a game. It’s all very efficient, focused and enveloping.

The Seagull has a cast of powerhouses. As Konstantin, Philip Riccio squeezes your heart, he is so lost in love for Nina, desperate to find his way in life – and then he solves his problems in a dramatic way. As Nina, Christine Horne also has that haunted look about her. There is effort to be buoyant but there is also a hint of uncertainty about it. She is radiant at the beginning when she is in Konstantin’s play, but then life interferes, and that haunted look takes over.

As Trigorin, Tom Rooney is watchful, always curious about what is around him, and so he makes notes for another story. And yet he is also removed from actually being involved with the people there, except for Nina – and she’s only a refreshing diversion. As Medvedenko, Gregory Prest is an actor who captures all the vulnerability and awkwardness of the man. He shows all  the earnestness and humourlessness of Medvedenko. As Arkadina, Yanna McIntosh is petulant, commanding and moody. Interestingly I don’t find her to be the grand dame actress that the part suggests.

Comment. Chris Abraham and his stellar cast have realized Chekhov’s humour, ennui and beating heart in this beautiful, evocative production.

Crow’s Theatre in association with Canadian Stage presents:

First preview: Jan. 11, 2015

First time able to see it: Jan. 29, 2015

Closes: Feb. 8, 2015

Cast: 11; 7 men, 4 women.

Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.


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