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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

“The Seagull” starts slow but enthralls audiences

Published: October 4, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

Exploring distraught mother-son relationships, marriages tainted by romantic affairs and the tortures of fame, The Brandeis Theater Company’s production of “The Seagull,” although slow to start, quickly enthralled the audience through its dramatic and comedic performances.

Written by Anton Chekhov, the play was originally produced in 1896, with its opening night a complete failure. Reportedly, the actress playing the role of Nina lost her voice at the onset of the production, causing the night to fall to ruins shortly after. Despite its initial rocky start, the play later seized a spot as an acclaimed piece of Russian theater, its disputable history no longer discernible in later productions.

Held in the Laurie Theater, an intriguing choice due to its small scale, the show was slow to capture the attention of the audience. One can’t blame this failure on the cast, but on the play itself. In the opening scene Alex Jacobs plays Pyotr Sorin, an elderly man and brother of the famous actress Irina Arkadina, played by Sara Schoch. The emotionally unstable Konstantin Treplev, played by Eddie Shields, attempts to garner the approval of his mother Irina by testing his capabilities as a playwright. Casting his young lover, Nina Zarechnaya, played by Alex Johnson, as the central character of the play within a play, Konstantin is utterly destroyed by his mother’s mockery of the production.

Shield fully commits to the fragile, emotionally unstable character of Konstantin, plunging into a full fledged tantrum before storming off stage. Konstantin is unable to acquire his mother’s love and approval, instead vying for a place in her world among prominent writers, actors and producers. Plagued by severe feelings of inadequacy, Konstantin instead serves as a constant reminder of his mother’s departure from youth, highlighting the turbulent mother-son relationship which destroys his sense of self worth.

The self-absorbed persona of Irina is manifested in Schoch’s performance, while the audience becomes suspicious of sexual undertones elicited between the majority of the cast. It quickly becomes evident that Irina’s husband, Yevgeny Dorn, played by Jonathan Young, is having an affair with the wife of the groundkeeper, while Irina herself is pursuing the acclaimed writer Boris Trigorin, played by Brandon Green.

The production manages to portray a sense of dark humor, placing a comedic spin on deep rooted psychological disorders. Laura Jo Trexler, who plays the character of Masha, a depressed young woman who is tormented by her love for Konstantin, effortlessly collects laughter from the audience. One could easily forget the play was written in the 1800s, incorporating themes of drug abuse and sexual scandal that are perfectly relatable to today. Masha turns away to sneakily snort some cocaine from a small metal tin, enraging the character of Yevegny, a physician who condemns substance abuse while engaging in sexual affairs outside his marriage. In a later scene, Masha slyly turns her head to sneak shots from her small flask, becoming increasingly tipsy to the amusing ignorance of other characters. Stumbling from her seat on the sofa, she claims her leg fell asleep, evoking laughter from the audience. Dressed in gothic attire, Texler effortlessly embodies Masha’s ironic personality and sense of dark humor.

Lingering between humor and darkness, the production takes on a disturbing light as Konstantin plunges further into a role of complete emotional instability. Burdened by feelings of inadequacy and tormented by his mother’s mockery, Konstantin kills a seagull and brings the dead corpse to Nina, his young lover. Coming to her in a moment of complete depression, as if crying out for help, Konstantin shoves the mangled form of the bird at her feet repeatedly, sweat glistening on his face, his hair plastered to his scalp.

Unable to serve as a source of comfort, Nina instead reacts in complete disgust, throwing the corpse of the seagull away from her feet. Konstantin is plagued by jealousy as he hears the footsteps of Boris Trigorin approaching, accusing Nina of having masked feelings for him. Konstantin successfully portrays a man savaged by self doubt, portraying the terrifying potential of inadequacy and depression within the scope of romantic relationships as well. Although not inherently violent, his completely irrational behaviors cast a deep sense of unease, as his groveling form holds the carcass of the dead bird.

Yet another standout performer was Brandon G. Green, who reflected on the torment of being a writer while developing an intimate bond with Nina. Convincing through his timing and delivery, Green describes how thinking of his next novel in order to appease the public has shattered the possibility of relaxing even for a moment. He bemoans the constant acknowledgment of his flaws, questioning his works the moments they are published.

Through outstanding performances from its cast, the Brandeis Theater Company’s production of “The Seagull,” captures themes of inadequacy and psychological torment in a darkly humorous light.