SEAGULL (EgoPo): A comedy of torn hearts and thwarted dreams

Seagul Chekov EgoPo Ed Swidey

Ed Swidey at Trigorin in EgoPo Classic Theater’s production of SEAGULL. During intermission, Swidey sits on stage and drinks wine. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

Young Konstantin, played shy and insecure by Andrew Carroll, is the center of this story. He guides the audience into the theater to watch the production of a play he has written. (We walk through the beautiful and striking lakeside set.) His theatrical effort stars Nina, the love of his life. He gave her the part because she wants to be an actress. He offers the play as a gift to his mother, the stage audience and the audience seated beyond.

You want things to work out for him. But poor Konstantin can’t get a break. He just can’t seem to become the great artist he wants to be, or have the love he wants to have. Anna Zaida Szapiro absolutely shines as Nina, who doesn’t love him and has a different sort of life in mind. But, out of sync with Nina and even with himself, fragile Konstantin can’t move on. Even his self-involved actress mother, Arkadina, (performed with élan by Melanie Julian) hasn’t found the love or glamorous life of her dreams.  Her dismissive reception of his theatrical effort will later be mirrored in Nina’s reception of his awkward gift of a seagull he shot for her. His tributes are unwanted, like a dead mouse that a cat has put on the doorstep.

Director Lane Savadove, concerned that productions of Chekhov plays can tend to “become stereotypes of themselves,” looked for the playwright’s original intent and has taken his cue from Konstantin’s idea for his play within the play: to honor nature, Symbolism, and new forms of theater. EgoPo’s unexpected staging is inspired by this philosophy. Thom Weaver’s set/lighting design, while resembling the every day, evokes the unconscious. And with Rita Squitiere’s stunning costumes and Lucan Fendlay’s sound design with snatches of music and scattered song, you feel connected—to the play, the characters, and the lake—awash in real, yet metaphoric water.

seagull EgoPo review

The cast of SEAGULL sketched by Chuck Schultz. From left to right: Dorn played by Eric Kramer, Arkadina played by Melanie Julian, Paulina played by Kristen Quinn, Sorin played by Aaron Cromie, Shamrayev played by Mark Knight, Medvedenko played by Dane Eissler, Yakov played by Nick Ware, Trigorin played by Ed Swidey. Click for larger image.

Astute casting has resulted in a stage populated by skilled actors who know how to build a character. Chekhov’s eccentrics shine anew: Ed Swidey’s Trigorin, Stephanie Iozzia’s Masha, Dane Eissler’s Medvedenko, Aaron Cromie’s Sorin, Kirsten Quinn’s Paulina, Mark Knight’s Shamrayev, Eric Kramer’s Dorn, and Nick Ware’s Yakov. As a student of the absurdities of life, Chekhov observed that people sit at dinner and “their lives are being created, or their lives are being torn apart.”  Everywhere in THE SEAGULL people converse, throw themselves at the wrong person, see their relationships fall apart, or soldier on with disappointed resignation. Hearts are broken and stay that way. And the whole ensemble holds the audience in the palm of their collective hand.

Full of small conversations, humor, and weekend activities, things meander toward the conclusion. Like the John Lennon lyric, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” the plot is more a texture of people doing common things than an obvious attempt at anything ‘Important’. Themes of love and talent, and the lack of either, are addressed simply, while elaborate atmospherics spread mood over the particulars of plot. The twinkle in this show also owes much to Savadove’s choice of the late great Paul Schmidt’s translation. Neither formal like old-time translators’ work nor a stripped down and rebuilt riff like some new versions and adaptations, Schmidt preserves Chekhov’s soulful humor, sadness, and hesitations, while altering expressions into current, relatable idiom.

Ah! The pathetically unfulfilled romantic expectations! The sad characters and absurd human comedy! Elegiac and humorous, this is the wettest, yet very likely the most accessible SEAGULL I’ve seen. EgoPo nails it, and beautifully.  

[The Latvian Society, 7th and Spring Garden streets] February 1 – 19, 2017; egopo.org.

The moment when Konstantin played by Andrew Carroll brings out the seagull for Nina played by Anna Zaida Szapiro. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

The moment when Konstantin played by Andrew Carroll brings out the seagull for Nina played by Anna Zaida Szapiro. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

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About the author

Kathryn Osenlund, theater and film junkie, is a former National Critics Institute fellow, NEA fellow in Arts Journalism, and member of the American Theater Critics Assn Steinberg and Osborn playwriting awards committee. A Barrymore Award nominator and professor emeritus in communications and theater, Kathryn also writes for NY-based CurtainUp.com. On twitter @theatrendorphin.