Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Seagull/Hay Fever"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark

"The Seagull"

in rep with

"Hay Fever"

Both Directed by Diego Arciniegas

Set Design by Dahlia Al-Habeli
Lighting Design by Caleb Magnon
Costume Design by Rafael Jaen
Assistant Costume Designer Brian Choinski
Sound Design by John Doerschuk
Assistant Director "Seagull" Steve Bogart
Technical Directors Brett Ranieri & Kayla Szumowski
Run Crew/Wardrobe Malachy Kronberg & June Baboian
Scene Painters Helen McCarthy & Samantha Cooper
Master Electrician Tori Sweetser
Production Manager John Doerschuk
Assistant Stage Manager Kate Croasdale
Stage Manager Nerys Powell

If this summer's semi-tropical rainstorms will permit, Boston's only genuine repertory company will give the city three and a half weeks of classic theater on the banks of the Charles --- two plays set in country summer-places where "arteestes" (actresses and writers) hob-nob and everyone tries somehow to fit themselves into uncomfortable couplings, much like hermit-crabs. Who ends with whom is the question in Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" while who is most hurt is the subtext of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" --- but in Artistic Director Diego Arciniegas' hands comedy, or social satire, rises in both very different plays. They should be seen and compared, enjoyed and talked about. The Publick Theatre is lively and well, and still in business for yet another month. Go!

"The Seagull"

By Anton Chekhov
Tranlated by Diego Arciniegas

A Worker (Yakov).........................Ross MacDonald
A Schoolmaster (Simon Medviedenko).......Anthony Cascio
Shamraeff & Paulina's Daughter (Masha)......Lynn Guerra
Arkadina's Son (Constantine Treplieff).....Tyler Reilly
Arkadina's Brother (Peter Sorin.......).....Dafydd Rees
Daughter of Neighbor (Nina Zarietchnya)...Hannah Wilson
Shamraeff's Wife (Paulina)..................Debera Lund
A Doctor (Yevgeny Dorn)...................Joel Colodner
Estate Manager (Ilia Shamraeff)..........Dennis Trainor
An Actress (Irina Arkadina)..............Suzanne Nitter
A Writer (Boris Trigorin)................Robert Serrell

Anton Chekhov may indeed have thought his characters if not comic, at least laughably obsessive in their frustrated pursuits of one another, and this summer Diego Arciniegas has emphasized those self-destructive obsessions not only in his direction, he has provided a modern translation. The play still begins with an unreeling daisy-chain of unrequited passions --- Simon loves Masha who longs for Constantine who writes plays for his beloved Nina who is fascinated by older novelist Trigorin the latest lover of Constantine's mother the actress Arkadina ---but there are other fish fried here. A younger and an older writer wrestle with the difficulties of writing; a younger and an older actress react to success, or the lack of it. An ageing-roue doctor snaps that there is no medicine can cure being sixty, though both he and his patient see their lives as wasted. Marriage, even to a beloved, turns out as frustrating as longing. Even those who get what they want never experience the happiness they expected. God, and Chekhov and Arciniegas, laugh at what fools these mortals be.

There is a lot in this play, and Arciniegas has underlined the artists' problems juxtaposing art to life in self-explaining conversations. Trigorin's literary reputation --- good, but no Tolstoi! --- is further frustrating when he sees himself never Living life but merely taking notes for his next fiction. Arkadina admits to wanting to be on tour, learning lines in a hotel-room. For both young Constantine and Nina, passion is no substitute for technique in writing or in acting --- and both are destroyed by their passions.

People in the audience may see the same performance and come away with completely different opinions. The language here is often contemporary to the point of slang, so those who have known this classic before may not share first-timers' pleasure in relating to characters as lively contemporaries. At points, characters alone on-stage speak brief thoughts directly to the audience rather than as interior monologues. The aim here is not to bring to life a Russia of more than a hundred years ago, but to express all the essential emotions of that time in modern terms.

But every one of these characters is alive, and gets stand-out moments in which to shine. As Nina Hannah Wilson's smile is a beacon of youthful enthusiasm; Lynn Guerra's black-wrapped Masha sinks from snuff to vodka; Robert Serrell's Trigorin insists he'r rather be fishing than writing; Tyler Reilly's Constantine hates/loves the mother who constantly outshines him; Joel Colodner's Dr. Dorn watches as events unwind, occasionally trying to improve things, usually seeing the inevitable with no way to help. Even Dennis Trainor's estate manager, stoutly refusing to spare a horse in harvest-season for joy-rides into town rises to pompous dignity.

Love it or hate it, or love it AND hate it, this is an important re-invention of a well-worn classic that everyone should see.

"Hay Fever"

By Noel Coward

The Maid (Clara)........................Joanna Stephens
Daughter of Judith & David (Sorrel Bliss)...Lynn Guerra
Son of Judith & David (Simon Bliss)......Ross MacDonald
Actress (Judith Bliss).......................Debra Lund
Novelist (David Bliss)......................Dafydd Rees
Athlete (Sandy Tyrell)...................Robert Serrell
Socialite (Myra Arundel)..................Cheryl Turski
Diplomat (Richard Greatham)...............Joel Colodner
Chorine (Jackie Coryton)..................Hannah Wilson

Oddly enough, in this summer season at The Publick, it's the younger rather than the older play that feels dated. Like "The Seagull" Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" has the four members of the Bliss family inviting potential love-objects to their country home, and then having them all pair off in unlikely and unexpected combinations. The year is pegged as 1925 --- with flappers and chorines in vogue, and a "Bloomsbury Ethic" setting open marriages and gay affairs as viable alternatives to Victorian stuffiness.

The contest of manners is the subject here --- but in our world one of the contestants (Bloomsbury, hands down) has already won. It's a little difficult to think of any of the final choices here as even surprising, yet for full effect the play ought to be shocking to a large percentage of its audience. On 14 August, when I saw it, the only real shock was that I didn't feel shocked.

But now both plays are up and running for at least a week each and, if weather holds and the crick don't rise, this repertory company of excellent actors can continue to hone and to explore. I might even want to see "Hay Fever" again on closing night, just to see how it all turns out.

Break a leg all!


"The Seagull" (9 July - 7 September)
"Hay Fever" (30 July - 14 September)
Christian Herter Park, 1175A Soldiers Field Road, BRIGHTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide