Going into The Seagull last night, I was full of trepidation. I am no scholar of Anton Chekhov; before seeing the show, I couldn’t tell you much about this playwright. Upon reading the Wikipedia synopsis, that fear grew. The names were all complicated, in Russian, and difficult to pronounce. The story itself is immensely complex, full of love triangles that intersect and meld with one another, forming new shapes entirely. A rhombus perhaps?
I soon discovered that the beauty of The Seagull lies in its subtle irony. Each character wants what another has. While one is seeking fame, another is running from his talent and recognition. Another wants to be rich and provide for his family. His counterpart disregards wealth as an afterthought. One seeks approval from his mother, another from an audience, another from an unrequited love. The dizzying webs these characters construct should be overwhelming, but they aren’t. Director Laura Rikard makes sense of it all.
Upon walking into the theater, I was immediately struck by the intimate atmosphere. The audience was so close to the stage, and the actors cajoled us, laughed in our faces, and made us uncomfortable in the best kind of way.
I was especially impressed by the lighting and set design. The watercolor effect dazzled me; the drizzling rain was hypnotic and deepened the mood. The set itself was sparse, and everything had a purpose. Using the ceiling to their advantage, the technicians cleverly rigged golden curtains and a swing set. The ensemble cast members flitted in and out of the hallways above our heads, making us feel on edge and like we were constantly being watched. It was perfectly unsettling. As one of the characters states, “I want to show life in dreams.” I think they did.
In the show, one character announces that “everyone loves actors. We think of them differently.” The actors in this show made that statement true. Each individual remained so in character, so believable, that I felt myself celebrating their small victories, agonizing over their failures, and actively rooting against their demons. The complex latticework of the plot would have been too much for amateurish performers; these actors made their jobs look easy. They effortlessly pronounced complicated names, mastered unusual accents, and fully convinced me that I was alongside them in the Russian countryside.
Chekhov’s characters are the opposite of one-dimensional. Unstable and teeming with insecurities, these parts are not easy to portray. Konstantin, the tortured protagonist, was executed masterfully by Nicholas Healy ‘17. He dragged us down into his pit of misery, and the audience craved escape from his personal hell. His mother Irina, played by Martha Epstein ‘18, was mesmerizing. Watching this vindictive and dramatic woman fall to pieces was exhausting, frustrating, and wholly captivating.
In my opinion, her lover Boris, played by Jesse Weil ‘16, delivered the most powerful monologue of the evening. His lilting voice reeled me in, and I watched with bated breath as he explained the pitfalls of fame, the inconsistencies of artistry, and the agonizing existence of being a genius. The final lead, the young and beautiful Nina was played by Danielle Perelman ‘17. Her fresh-faced enthusiasm, blonde ringlets, and angelic energy matched Chekhov’s intentions. I want to give a special shout out to her counterpart, the sour and cynical Masha, played by Carrie Adams ‘17. She really embraced her role, delivering each of her lines with exactitude and panache.
The other ensemble characters were also impeccable. Writing glowing reviews for all of them would require a whole other article, so please go and check them out! Bring a group of your friends and expect an intense discussion about obsession, elitism, and lust to follow. Get ready to have your thoughts provoked!
The Seagull is playing this weekend (October 1-4) and next weekend (October 8-11) at Leeds theater.
Images via Laura Rikard.