Monday, April 13, 2009

The Seagull

‘THE SEAGULL” gets okay production at GLTF

In its initial production, Anton Chekhov’s ‘THE SEAGULL,’ which is now in repertoire production with ‘THE COMEDY OF ERRORS’ at Great Lakes Theatre Festival, was a dismal failure. Late nineteenth century Russian audiences were simply not ready to accept a work that seemed to violate almost all the traditional dramatic conventions of escapist and romantic theatre that they were used to seeing.

At that time, the theatre was basically attended by the upper classes. Chekov’s plays portrayed their lack of civility, leading lives with little purpose, and predicted a fall of this class. This was not what the upper classes wanted to hear. Some believe that, in fact, Chekov helped ferment some of the ideas that led to the Russian Revolution.

Chekov was not alone in his desire to change the romantic nature of the theatre of that age. He, Henrik Ibsen of Norway and August Strindberg of Sweden are recognized as writers of the modern theatre movement, which centered on Realism, Naturalism and Expressionism. Their plays were about real situations that affected real people.

Chekov, a noted short story writer and doctor, penned four major plays: ‘THE SEAGULL,’ ‘UNCLE VANYA,’ ‘THREE SISTERS’ and ‘THE CHERRY ORCHARD.’ They helped in earning recognition and an international reputation for not only Chekov, but for Constantine Stanislavski, the Father of Method Acting, who staged successful productions of Chekov’s plays at the Moscow Art Theatre.

The story begins with young Konstantin who is desperately trying to find a place for himself in the world. At this point he perceives himself to be a playwright. His life is turned upside down when his mother, a famous actress, returns to their summer home with her new lover, who is a successful writer. Their mere presence seems to wreak havoc and unsettle not only Konstantin, but the entire house hold. Tensions arise, suspicions grow and patience is tested. Many of the characters are caught in destructive relationships that evoke both pathos and humor. They are caught in the destructive nature of false dreams and living lives of fantasy.

The GLTF production, as directed by Drew Barr, who also did the adaptation, is perfectly acceptable, but lacks strong emotional presence. Having seen the play numerous times, I know this is not the way other productions affected me.

The pacing is slow and the internal climaxes not clearly highlighted. Even the unnerving action at the end of the play is not strong and clear. The man sitting next to me leaned over just before the curtain call and asked, ”What just happened? Is the play over?” This is not a good audience reaction.

Kevin Crouch as Konstantin, the tortured son, properly oozes angst. Dudley Swetland nicely develops the role of Pyotr, his bachelor uncle. Gisela Chipe has some nice moments as the woman who rejects Konstantin, and Ian Gould is properly pathetic as a school teacher. Laura Perotta acceptably develops Irina, as the overly dramatic drama queen and Andrew May nicely populates the role of the writer. The rest of cast is also acceptable.

The technical aspects, like the production, are sufficiently well done.

‘CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’S ‘THE SEAGULL,’ is an acceptable, but not compelling evening of theatre. The production needed more texturing, greater variance in pacing, and more dynamic character development to truly make a high interest statement.