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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
in this four-act comedy. Or at least it should, if spoken with
"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
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,
writers, and their fame — opposed to the boredom and
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
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
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
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
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,
Summer Theater is out of its depth.
— Joan Crespi
Theater, Princeton University. 609-258-4950. $10 adults, $6 students.
Through August 29.
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