Posted: August 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Let me first of all say that I absolutely love Chekhov — love, love, love! Ever since I first discovered him at the ripe old age of 18 when I played the brother, Andrei, in a college production of “Three Sisters,” I was immediately smitten with his psychologically complex characters, his relentless and almost obsessive philosophizing, his beautiful language and imagery, as well as with his angst-ridden portrayal of modernity. 

In many ways, Chekhov was the first absurdist. He preceded the movement that became en vogue in gay Paris by nearly 60 years. Like the absurdists, he was preoccupied with creating new forms for the theater, forms that reflected the fragmentary and isolating nature of modern life. Consequently, his theater, like that of the absurdists, tends to be very self-conscious, introspective, and bereft of plot, favoring instead, abstraction, experimentation, and existential themes.  

In a nutshell, his plays are much like those of Beckett – dark comedies where nothing happens to characters who sit around and wait for something that never comes. And yes, we are supposed to laugh at this; he did refer to all of his plays as comedies, after all!

And this is where I can certainly commend the latest production of “The Seagull” at ACT; the company completely captured the comedy in this, otherwise, dark piece. Director John Lang found the humor by emphasizing the histrionic nature of Chekhov’s characters, causing the audience to find humor in the characters’ extreme reactions to things, whether it be the resultant melancholia of unrequited love, the stumbling neurosis of alcoholism, or the manifested anguish of unfulfilled dreams. Audiences laughed at how seriously the characters take themselves. 

Leading the pack in such fine, comedic performances were Hannah Victoria Franklin as “Masha” and Julie Briskman as “Arkadina.” To me, these two women were what made the show so interesting; they were fascinating to watch even when they weren’t speaking; they were complex yet simple, subtle yet extreme, pathetic yet endearing, exaggerated yet realistic.

I wish the same could be said for some of the other lead characters, but Brandon J. Simmons as Konstantin was monotone and weak; Alexandra Tavares as Nina was flat and merely standard thoroughfare; and John Bogar as Trigorin was unengaging. I am NOT saying that they did an unsatisfactory job, but they pale in comparison to the wonderful work done by Franklin and Briskman. 

Rounding out the cast, we have: CT Doescher, Peter Crook, Julie Jamieson, Mark Jenkins, Tyler Polumsky and John Abramson. All of them bring fully realized and complete portrayals of these secondary characters. 

But here’s my beef with this production: apparently, they spent 9 MONTHS working on it! 9 MONTHS!  So, I guess I expected to be wowed. I expected more than, what to seemed to me, a merely competent, but not amazingly innovative rendition of “The Seagull.” 

The set, designed by Jennifer Zeyl, was plain and simple, consisting primarily of just a raised platform; the costumes, by Doris Black, though perhaps historically accurate, were not imaginative or spectacular. And honestly, from the publicity photos I saw before the show opened, where the actors were dressed in modern clothes, I felt disappointed when I realized that this was merely going to be a standard, period piece.  Chekhov was, and still is, so modern; it would have been nice if the company had decided to play more with that modernity instead of, once again, being obsessed with recreating something that has been done to death. 

Now am I saying I didn’t like the show? NO, I AM NOT! I DID, indeed, enjoy it! It’s Chekhov for Christ’s sake! It’s hard not to enjoy such a brilliant and innovative playwright like him. I just didn’t think that the company was as equally brilliant and innovative as they could have been, especially after spending 9 MONTHS on this project! 9 MONTHS and all we get is a raised platform for a set and some period costumes?!  

This said, I still recommend the show. There is some great character work and some brilliant comedy, and again, it IS Chekhov, so there is a lot to nourish the mind simply from the writing alone. The company has done a solid job of bringing a standard, if not so imaginative, production of “The Seagull” to the Seattle stage.

“The Seagull” runs through February 10th at ACT. For tickets, call 206-292-7676 or visit them on the web: www.acttheatre.orgImage

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