“I am in mourning - for my life!” exclaims Masha, as she runs breathlessly onto the stage. Dressed all in black but seemingly full of joie de vivre, her melodramatic statement draws laughter from the audience and the mocking dramedy that is Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” begins.
The Antaeus Company is known for its tradition of double-casting their productions. The two casts of “The Seagull”—the Rubles and the Samovars—consist of experienced actors, most of whom have also appeared in films and television. While the blocking and pacing for each cast are identical, the actors take it upon themselves to personalize the characters and make them their own. With the set and music made subtle and natural, director Andrew Traister ensures that all attention is focused towards the performances and the alternately witty and powerful dialogue.
Upon entering the theater, the stage seems surprisingly small—more like tiny, actually. The set consists of some chairs, a bench, a couple of tables, a flowery carpet that serves both as a grassy meadow and later as the floor for the indoor scenes, and a miniature stage that is later replaced by a small bed. Despite its size and the amount of furniture, everything is kept simple and is spaced out in a way that the stage never seems too cluttered. The blocking fully utilizes all the space available, and feels unrestrained and lively. The background is a pleasant watercolor-on-silk mural of the lake that frames the entire story. Throughout the entire play, a subtle nature track plays in the background, barely noticeable, but with a wonderful effect. It creates the sunny, lighthearted texture of summer in the first acts, and ultimately transforms into the ominous sounds of strong wind roaring outside the cozy room in which the final act takes place.
Framed by the naturalistic atmosphere of the stage are the larger-than-life emotions and passions that define the characters of Chekhov. Each is as a caricature: the tormented artist, the narcissistic actress, the philosophical doctor, the sweet, sick uncle, the disappointed young girl whose love goes unrequited, the impressionable aspiring actress––and the list goes on. This colorful batch of characters is placed in an idyllic country setting, where they have nothing to do but wallow in their own self-absorbed boredom. Love blossoms and goes unrequited, duels are proposed, alcohol and snuff are hardly ever out of sight, money and horses are squabbled over, and hearts are broken. Having seen both casts, there are performances from each that left a particularly powerful impact. Laura Wernette of the Rubles, who played Irina Arkadina on both opening nights (Gigi Bermingham of the Samovars was unfortunately ill), plays an actress who performs through her life, forgetting that reality is not just another show with the spotlight on her. She dances across the stage, speaks with comical exaggeration, and demands the love and attention of all, both on the stage and in the audience. Jules Willcox of the Samovars, who plays Nina, blows the role out of the water. Never before has the typical, emotionally delicate, young love interest been such a fascinating character. Her large eyes hypnotize and steady voice entrances both her fellow characters and the audience. Each of the characters is portrayed uniquely and with a profound capacity for both humor and tragedy. The chemistry between the actors (or intentional lack thereof) is unmistakable.
For a play that relies so heavily on character interpretation and dialogue, The Antaeus Company more than stepped up to the challenge, successfully focusing all the energy of the production on showcasing the wonderful talent of its casts.
You can reach reporter Sara Itkis here.