By Sarah Re
UVU Theatrical Department presents a lovely production of Chekhov’s Seagull, translated and adapted by Curt Columbus. A personal favorite, Seagull takes place at the quiet, country home of Peter Sorin (Tyrell Clement) alongside a beautiful and enchanting lake. His sister, Irina (Stephanie Lake) is a famous actress and while she lives in the city, she often comes to visit her brother and her son, Constantine (Colton Orr), at the estate. The play begins during one such summertime visit, full of anticipation for his mother’s return, Constantine seeks to impress his mother by producing a play he has written starring his young lover, Nina (Aspen Thompson). However, Irina has brought along her new companion, the renowned author BorisTrigorin (Jacob Thomason), who quickly becomes Constantine’s rival both for his mother’s attention and Nina’s affection. Full of unrequited love, human fascination, desire, angst, selfishness, and jealousy, Seagull will have you thinking about what it means to be human and the effect we all have on each other.
As in many of Chekhov’s works, there is no one true “main character” but rather an ensemble of characters existing in the same existential paradigm. Be sure to pick up the adjoining pamphlet “Sharing Stage” which is full of useful information and insightful questions, including a note from dramaturg, Jess Bird. The back page has a helpful flowchart defining the relationship between each of the characters complete with a key for mutual love, unrequited love, family, marriage, and employment. For example, the unrequited love of Medvendenko (Carter Walker) to Masha (Olivia Casper), Masha to Constantine, Constantine to Nina, and Nina to Trigorin. Talk about a tangle.
Director Jeremy Sortore has created an intriguing production, full of symbolic and captivating movement pieces. Trained in Moscow where experimental physical theater is used heavily, Sortore says this about Chekhov’s work in his director’s note, “the magic of Chekhov’s writing is in its explosive vitality, its shockingly modern resonance, and the deep well of desire simmering just under the surface.” I loved the incorporation of the Dancer (Becca Penn-Pierson) who represented at different times to different people passion, innocence, desire, freedom, creativity, or pain. While she predominantly symbolized these characteristics in Nina, I felt Dancer also represented the inner mind of each of the characters with whom she came into contact. Each time she came onstage, I was enthralled by her, especially the moments she shared with Trigorin, which could be argued representing Nina’s imagination, fascination, and desire for the man. However, I felt it symbolized Trigorin’s passion and excitement for creation that is awakened inside himself by Nina. The dance piece is well executed by Penn-Pierson and Thomason, who doesn’t miss a beat during the monologue despite lifting, moving, dancing with his partner. I also appreciate the use of psychological gesture throughout the piece, moments where time slows down, captured in a tableau, where the action becomes abstract representing subconscious desires and inner monologues.
The need to cast roles in a variety of ages will always pose a challenge in a college level production, however, each of the actors brings depth to their role. Clement supplies a wry bitterness to Peter Sorin with perfect comedic timing; Lake captures well the dramatic, passionate nature of Irina; and Anthony Kunz brings warmth and maturity to Yevgeny Dorn. Kyle Baugh as the blustering Ilya and Courtney Park as his wife Paulina capture the strained, tense nature of their relationship with well-timed barbs on Park’s part and brash obliviousness on Braugh’s, waiting just the right amount of time for awkward silence before a laugh. Walker makes for an ideal Medvendenko, the poor school teacher hopelessly in love with Masha, who constantly rejects him even after they marry. You can’t help but feel for the poor guy, rejected by everyone though he looks out for everyone. Casper balances the morose nature of Masha with humor and wit. Whitney Call makes an amusing punctuation point with each onstage appearance as Yakov, each moment full of character.
Orr brings imagination, torment, and passion to his role of Constantine, so desperate for his mother’s approval and affection. We watch his desperation grow as the show progresses, peaking in his dance with Penn-Pierson as he wrestles with both Nina’s and his mother’s continued rejection, the push and pull of their bodies symbolizing the emotional magnetism of obsession, possession, and desperation. Thompson brings sweetness, innocence, and naivete to the role of Nina, although I feel there is room for the actress to be freer with the role. The show begins with a stunning movement piece by the company, Nina and the Dancer move together mimicking waves and freely giving over to the passion and liberation of the movement with the most spectacular hair whip I have ever seen. It’s really entrancing and both women are so free with their bodies, giving over to the power of the motion. This level of freedom in a role is an area in which Thompson has an opportunity to grow.
The production was absolutely beautiful. The moment I stepped into the theater, I fell in love with the set design by Aimee Moore, which is perfectly brought to life by Matt Taylor’s lighting design. Beautiful birch trees tower over the set, and you enter the theater along the painted lake surrounded by trees immediately absorbing you in the magic of the world. Light reflects up against the rock at the back, creating a cool water effect and a bright, bold moon looms above. The sound design, by Kevin Criman, adds to the sweeping effect with hauntingly beautiful pre-show music, a fully immersive sensory experience. Huge French doors arch nearly as tall as the trees, creating a beautiful symbol of the contradiction of this place, the appearance of freedom that is at once stifling for some and liberating for others. La Beene did a lovely job creating a period costume design that enabled the actors to move freely throughout the movement heavy piece. The sound design ties in seamlessly with the production, hauntingly beautiful and a little overwhelming at times to reflect the emotional state of the characters. The production design as a whole was on point.
Seagull is as relevant now as it was a century ago because it is a poignant exploration on of the human psyche: what makes us love? What makes us hate? Why do some people obsess while others reject? Why do we care about theater, about art, and should it be ever evolving into “new forms” or are there other ways to challenge, grow, and inspire? Chekhov insisted that Seagull is a comedy, despite the tragedy that besets many of the characters. UVU’s beautiful production of Seagull will inspire you to look closer at your relationships and what it means to be human.
UVU Theatrical Department Presents Seagull, by Anton Chekhov
Noorda Theater 800 W. University Parkway, Orem, Utah 84058
March 1-3, 5-10, 7:30 PM Matinee March 10, 2:00 PM
Tickets: $8 – $14, Tickets can be purchased at www.uvu.edu/thearts/ or at the door.
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