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The Seagull

By Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 10/6/2004

In 1892, Anton Chekhov bought a country estate in Melikhovo, a village 50 miles south of Moscow. During his six years there, he only wrote one play, The Seagull. Though it is perhaps his most brilliant and affecting study of Russian provincial society, it was poorly received at its 1896 St. Petersburg premiere. A triumphant Moscow production two years later, however, would establish the short-story writer’s reputation as a master dramatist.

There is, of course, no analogous redemption for the anguished characters who populate the play, but their gorgeous despair is our limitless reward—and Kasi Campbell’s production of Tom Stoppard’s fluid 1997 translation at Rep Stage is a real treat, joyfully wallowing in the twin excesses of desperate love and decadent philosophizing.

Against the fin-de-siècle backdrop of encroaching modernity, a traditional estate is held together only by unrequited love. Black-clad Masha loves tortured artist Konstantin, who loves fame-seeking Nina, who loves the dashing novelist Trigorin, who is beholden to the famous actress Arkadina, who loves only herself. A sea gull is shot, and everything unravels.

Karl Miller’s near flawless turn as Konstantin is the triumph of the production. Without his charisma and self-effacing charm, the first two acts might have come off as staged and stilted. Apart from Nigel Reed (pictured) offering a bewitching take on Trigorin—a character too often portrayed as a despicable hack—the play doesn’t quite hit its stride until the third. But then comes the stormy head-bandaging scene between Konstantin and his mother (Helen Hedman, pictured), whizzing around (and under) Tony Cisek’s elegant set, and Chekhov has us in his grip, though we may squirm at what we know he has in store.

As Masha, Cheryl Resors mourns for her life with acerbic wit, and some of the most perfectly realized moments of the production come between her and Bruce Nelson, who plays the supplicant schoolteacher, Medvedenko, with warmth and nuance. Another standout in a minor role is Robert Leembruggen’s Shamraev, the alternately beleaguered and belligerent farm manager, whose furious subservience to the whims of decaying gentry are a welcome comic foil. Less successful is Bill Largess’ Dorn; his cutesy interpretation of the meditative medicine man is good for a few chuckles but robs the doctor of the gravitas he requires in the final scene.

Audiences are likely to disagree about Megan Anderson’s take on the title character, Nina. She is beautiful and talented, but Anderson’s mannered and overenunciated performance threatens to conflate her performance with Konstantin’s uncharitable summary of Nina’s stage career: “She played some parts, but she played them crudely with a lot of declaiming and throwing her arms about.”

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