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This review by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August

26, 1998. All rights reserved.

Review: `Sea Gull’

I am in mourning for my life," says Marya in her

famous opening line of Anton Chekhov’s "The Sea Gull," the

first of the author’s four great plays, and the last of the four-play

season of the Princeton Summer Theater. Directed by Nick Merritt,

the play runs through Saturday, August 29, at the Hamilton Murray

Theater on the Princeton University campus. "I am unhappy,"

adds Marya (Masha in some translations), and her remark sets the tone

of sadness, discontent, and even despair of nearly all of the

characters

in this four-act comedy. Or at least it should, if spoken with

heaviness.

"Comedy?" Well, each loves someone who does not return love:

Treplev hopelessly loves Nina, a sheltered, innocent young girl and

would-be actress; Medvedenko, a schoolmaster, loves Marya (the

practical

Marya doesn’t love but eventually marries him, then wishes she’d never

met him); Marya loves Treplev; Polina Andreyevna, Marya’s mother,

loves Dorn, the doctor; Treplev’s mother, the vain, selfish, stingy

actress Arkadina, loves, and, with desperate flattery, holds onto,

the weak, spineless novelist, Trigorin. The lovely, impressionable

Nina also loves Trigorin. Or his fame.

But sorry, Anton: a comedy it’s not. Most of the characters are, as

one of them says, "miserable." The play is a tragedy, or at

least a drama, of ruination, despair, and unrealized dreams.

The play is also a harsh examination of art — of actresses,

fiction

writers, and their fame — opposed to the boredom and

dissatisfaction

of provincial life.

And there are deliberate echoes of Hamlet with the mother-son-mother’s

new man trilogy, with lines quoted, and with "Hamlet’s" love

of his mother bordering on incest, all of which this production points

up, only here there is no dead father, and it is the mother’s lover

who takes "Hamlet’s" star-struck girl.

The action — there is little surface action: this is Chekhov —

involves interwoven lives of enervated, purposeless people stuck in

the provinces in 1890s Russia, speaking endlessly of their feelings,

breaking off in mid-sentence, suffering. Into this mix comes, from

Moscow, a famous actress, Arkadina, to her brother Sorin’s estate

with her lover, Trigorin, the celebrated, self-absorbed novelist and

short story writer.

The sea gull is one of the most famous symbols in all dramatic

literature.

The bird, which Treplev shoots in Act II, represents Nina, but also

Treplev. Even after she runs away to Moscow and has an affair and

a child (who dies) with Trigorin, and he discards her with his usual

careless self-centeredness — all this takes place offstage and

is related in Act IV — Nina still loves Trigorin

"passionately,

desperately," she tells Treplev, so destroying his last hope for

her love. She loves Trigorin even though she is now aware — as

she says in the play’s defining moment, repeating Trigorin’s earlier

words for a short story — "I am a sea gull. …A man came

along by chance, saw it, and, having nothing better to do, destroyed

it."

Alas, this production of "The Sea Gull" is shot down before

it even begins. But first the good news: Harry Schultz is excellent

as Sorin, sympathetic and wholly believable. And Patricia Echeverria

is convincing in the much smaller role of Polina Andreyevna. Yet these

are, appropriately, older actors playing older people. Marlo Hunter

does an admirable job of portraying the young, well-guarded, innocent

girl, Nina, and the hysterical, distraught, ruined (in 19th century

terms) woman who briefly returns. Damian Long, who must memorize great

quantities of lines with his breakfast cereal (he also played the

delightful lead last month in "She Loves Me") again overcomes

a visibly wooden demeanor to become an anguished and moving Treplev.

The plump, dead sea gull which Trigorin ordered stuffed — and

with his cavalier indifference forgot about — is brought out near

the play’s end by Shamraev. This prop is terrific and looks the part.

But several in the cast are too youthful for their

roles.

Nick Merritt is Trigorin. With a young man’s slim body, he lacks the

unspoken power, absence of will, and moral flabbiness of this literary

lion. Lori Rolinsky plays Arkadina, his lover and Treplev’s mother.

Although she displays Arkadina’s stinginess, Rolinsky looks too

old for Trigorin and too young to be 43 (or even an admitted 32)

and Treplev’s mother.

Moreover, key lines should be pointed up, not lost. Arkadina’s talking

during her son’s play should be a loud, clear interruption. Shamrev’s

lines should be delivered to, not away from, the audience, and in

Treplev and Arkadina’s hot, shouted argument and Nina’s last speeches,

every word should be clear. And the scenery for Acts III and IV was

cumbersome, unready, and looked impoverished. And Treplev’s shaving

scene in Act I does not belong outdoors in an estate park.

Chekhov, rich with psychological undercurrents, is difficult for even

a mature, experienced, professional group to do well. George Street

Playhouse is scheduled to tackle it next season. Here and now,

Princeton

Summer Theater is out of its depth.

— Joan Crespi

The Sea Gull, Princeton Summer Theater, Hamilton Murray

Theater, Princeton University. 609-258-4950. $10 adults, $6 students.

Through August 29.


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