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Vancouver Theatre: The Seagull

_0148878-w500-h500.jpgThe Seagull by Anton Chekhov, translated by Peter Gill
Directed by Kathy Duborg
Telus StudioTheatre
Theatre at UBC
Playing till Feb 8th, 2014

Vancouver, BC: So after immersing myself in Kathy Duborg's evocative production of The Seagull, and earlier in John Wright's insightful production of Uncle Vanya, at last I find myself moving beyond my antipathy to the fatalistic hopelessness of Chekhov's plays to glimpsing the Chekhovian genius for creating complex psychological characters that confound and perplex long after the final curtain. In her Director's notes Duborg writes that performing as a student in The Seagull with Chekhov's "beautiful and heartbreaking characters", opened her to a greater understanding of how to inhabit a character. The student and experienced actor has clearly become a great teacher judging by the powerful performances she has drawn from these BFA Acting students.

139a0125-w500-h500.jpgThe story, such as it is, bears some similarity to Uncle Vanya, in that hopeless unrequited love and loveless marriage is a powerful the me in both plays. But in The Seagull, Chekhov raises questions about art and creativity; the established successes and the innovations that seek new expressions.

The play takes place on the country farm of Sorin (Javier Sotres), a retired government official. His sister, Irina Arkadina (Mercedes de la Zerda) is a famous, but self-obsessed melodramatic actress, whose lover Trigorin (Matt Kennedy)is a successful and renowned writer of fiction.  Konstantin (Thomas Elms),  Irina's son, who lives with his uncle on the farm, is an aspiring playwright, who wants to overturn contemporary play conventions. Konstantin is in love with Nina (Natasha Zacher) who does not love him.  Masha (Helena Fisher-Welch), the daughter of the farm manager, Ilya (Nathan Cottrell) and his wife Pauline (Naomi Vogt) is being courted by schoolteacher Medvendenko (Nick Preston) but is in love with the indifferent Konstantin.  Dorn (Daniel Meron)  the local doctor, is the only person who appreciates the creativity of Konstantin's new approach to playwriting.  I guess he represents Chekhov's  alter-ego.

Among a strong cast, Mercedes de la Zerda shone as Irina, capturing her total self-absorption perfectly. A highlight moment was the scene when she dramatically begs Trigorin for his love, and as soon as she sees she has won, her attitude turns on a dime back to her usual self-centred arrogant self. Elms also captured the angst of Konstantin perfectly. Natasha Zacher portrays Nina's enthusiasm and passion to fly as an actress,  only to crash to earth in the face of reality and Trigorin's later indifference.

The set design by Elliott Squire was sparse with a few chairs and tables, reflecting the simplicity of country life. I loved the way it evoked the nearby lake with the pale blues of the back drop blending into the floor.  A low platform served as the base for a makeshift stage in the first act, and later to suggest rooms within the farmhouse, also indicated by the lowering of four hanging frames. 

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It's interesting to think that The Seagull was the play that could have deprived us of Chekhov's three later major plays. When the first production in St. Petersburg was badly received he was said to have vowed that he would write no more plays. But the next productions of The Seagull were more successful, and finally the production by the Moscow Art Theatre directed by Stanislavski established the work as a new direction for Russian theatre. The picture shown here is a photograph of the display in the Chekhov museum that  I took recently when I visited the the Chekhov dacha  and museum in Yalta on the Crimean peninsula. The caption reads "Chekhov with Artists of the Art Theatre of Moscow. Another interesting note is that Chekhov fell in love with the actress playing Irina Arkadina, Olga Kipper, and they actually were married for three years before he died of tuberculosis.

I really enjoyed this production.  Congratulations to the student cast for making the inner pain and heartaches of Chekhov's characters come alive.

The Seagull plays till February 8th in the Telus Theatre  UBC. Book online or call 604- 822-2678.