`The Seagull' gives a rich look at life

Theater: Rep Stage's talented actors bring the adapted Russian drama to Columbia with passion and humor.

Review

Howard Live

September 30, 2004|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, in a recent adaptation by Tom Stoppard, is enjoying a production rich in emotion and humor at Rep Stage in Columbia.

Chekhov didn't construct traditional plots. In The Seagull, he puts his principal characters -- four impassioned people -- on stage and lets their interaction lead them to tragedy.

On a rural estate in old Russia, Arkadina, a 40-ish stage star, is having an affair with Trigorin, a successful writer. Her son, Konstantin, is jealous, partly because he envies the man's talent and success, and partly because he has Oedipal feelings for his mother.

Konstantin writes a play and stages it for his family and friends. He casts Nina, the young woman he loves, as the solo performer. It is an avant-garde work and Arkadina ridicules it. Wounded and resentful, Konstantin stops the performance.

Nina meets Trigorin, and her romantic feelings for Konstantin vanish. She is swept away by the author's glamor and fame. They have a brief affair and Nina becomes pregnant, but Trigorin maintains his relationship with Arkadina.

Deserted by Trigorin, Nina goes on the stage professionally. Konstantin, deserted by Nina, works on his writing and achieves minor success. He follows her career closely, but she avoids him. They finally meet at a family gathering on the estate, with tragic results.

Helen Hedman is an attractive, birdlike Arkadina. Her character is appropriately vain, self-absorbed and steel-willed, but the overwhelming seductiveness and operatic manner that might be expected from the script are lacking.

Karl Miller convincingly depicts Konstantin's transition from a rebellious, artistic youth to a sadder, wiser adult.

Megan Anderson, likewise, takes Nina from an innocent and idealistic girl to a tragic figure, eternally in love with Trigorin, sentenced to a life in third-rate theater troupes but finding fulfillment.

Nigel Reed makes a heavily emotional character of Trigorin, a respected public figure who succumbs to Arkadina's sexual domination, and a compulsive writer who doubts the value of his work.

In addition to these four, The Seagull has a gallery of background characters with their own needs and emotions.

Sorin is Arkadina's brother, a retired government official and the real owner of the estate where she lives. A bumbling man who has let life pass him by, he is good-hearted and fond of his nephew, Konstantin. Bill Hamlin brings him likeably to life.

Medvedenko, nicely delineated by Bruce Nelson, is a poor schoolteacher, decent at heart but obsequious, self-pitying and obsessed with money.

Robert Leembruggen gives an emphatic portrayal of Shamraev, a boisterous, unfeeling petty tyrant who manages Sorin's farm. Annie Houston convincingly depicts his wife, Polina, as small-minded, emotionally needy and desperate to please.

Their daughter, Masha, has long been in love with Konstantin, but has suppressed her feelings. Cheryl Resor vividly depicts the bitter, unpleasant woman she has become.

Dorn, the local doctor, was a handsome womanizer in his younger days who is having a secret affair with Polina. Such a record suggests a sure-footed, self-confident and cynical character, but Bill Largess portrays him as vapid and indecisive. This characterization weakens the climax, when Dorn has to speak the play's dramatic final line.

The play gains immediacy from Stoppard's colloquial translation. He emphasizes the humor in the script, but takes a few minor liberties with Chekhov's text.

The Seagull, which runs through Oct. 10, is directed by Rep Stage's associate artistic director, Kasi Campbell. Show times are at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. An additional 7 p.m. performance is scheduled Oct. 7. Tickets are $10 to $21, with a $2 discount for senior citizens. Students pay $10. 410-772-4900.

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