The Seag­ull soars and swoops on winds of un­re­quited love

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

BE­FORE Masha even reaches the stage at the out­set of The Seag­ull she ex­plains her fond­ness for wear­ing black. “I’m mourn­ing my life,” she says. “I’m un­happy.” And on that up­lift­ing note, ChekhovFest 2014 is off and glum­ming. The Seag­ull is An­ton Chekhov’s ear­li­est ma­jor play, and it landed at the RMTC Ware­house Thurs­day with all the melan­choly and heartache of the orig­i­nal still in­tact. Masha is the first, and by far not the last, in­hab­i­tant of a Rus­sian coun­try es­tate whose spirit is be­ing crushed by thwarted pas­sion and un­ful­filled de­sire. The de­bate over whether The Seag­ull is a com­edy, like the play­wright claimed, or a tragedy as Konstantin Stanislavsky, Chekhov’s pi­o­neer­ing di­rec­tor, loudly pro­claimed rages on. Di­rec­tor Krista Jack­son of­fers a well-bal­anced pro­duc­tion brim­ming with deep, painful hi­lar­ity. The depth of the joy and sor­row of th­ese char­ac­ters be­comes so ab­surd as to be­come laugh­able. Masha is mis­er­able be­cause she car­ries a torch for bud­ding play­wright Con­stan­tine, who has a thing for neigh­bour Nina, an as­pir­ing ac­tress at­tracted to the fa­mous nov­el­ist Trig­orin, who is car­ry­ing on with Con­stan­tine’s stage-diva mother Irina, but also has the hots for Nina. Ev­ery­one’s in love with some­one who doesn’t re­turn their love. Chekhov’s mashup up of funny and sad is beau­ti­fully cap­tured in a scene where the es­tate man­ager’s mar­ried wife Polina, played with a hair-trig­ger in­ten­sity by Terri Cherniack, is hav­ing an af­fair with dap­per Doc­tor Dorn. She loves his bed­side man­ner and wants to move in with him, but he’s not many of the 13-mem­ber cast, who get to blurt out their tor­ments found in David French’s trans­la­tion that en­livens the di­a­logue for a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence. Dorn has a few lines that could have come out of the mouth of Basil Fawlty, and es­tate owner Sorin starts whistling un­com­fort­ably when his sis­ter Irina tells him bold-faced lies about her fi­nances. Jack­son draws strong per­for­mances from her two im­ported leads and many home­town ac­tors. Bethany Jil­lard ( Gone With the Wind) finely draws Nina’s jour­ney from fame-hun­gry op­ti­mism to bruised re­al­ism. A high­light is her hero-wor­ship­ping lake­side scene with the world-weary Trig­orin, but their mis­read­ings of each other spark a doomed ro­mance. In his low-key RMTC de­but, Tom Rooney’s Trig­orin re­veals how a ret­i­cent man is trans­formed by an ador­ing pub­lic. Ross McMil­lan stands out as self-sat­is­fied Dorn, the doc­tor who dis­penses com­pas­sion and cru­elty. Sharon Ba­jer con­veys all the van­ity, par­si­mony and melo­drama of an ag­ing per­former who senses her best years are be­hind her. Ba­jer suc­ceeds in mak­ing us won­der at times if Irina is play­ing a role or just be­ing her­self. Harry Nelken gives us a sym­pa­thetic Sorin, who wanted to live in town and get mar­ried, but ends up a bach­e­lor in the coun­try. Tracy Pen­ner is a de­light in how she vividly sells the tragedy of the com­i­cally self-ab­sorbed. Tom Keenan is a be­liev­able Con­stan­tine, head­strong and im­ma­ture, but pas­sion­ate about Nina and the need for a new the­atre form. The pa­thetic way he shows Nina the seag­ull he has shot is rem­i­nis­cent of a dog bring­ing home a squir­rel it killed. Ul­ti­mately, in The Seag­ull, tragedy takes hold in the darker fi­nal act where mo­ments of ten­der­ness give way to the re­sults of bru­tal un­kind­ness that leaves the au­di­ence, like Masha, mourn­ing.


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