by Clark Groome
The courageous Quintessence Theatre Group’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” is the biggest production in their two years at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy. The results are mixed.
While the twin passions of romance and commitment to art come together in a most chilling way in the Good Doctor’s first major play (Chekhov had a medical degree), the Quintessence production never captures that passion.
The play tells of the lives and loves of several members of a lakeside Russian community: the aspiring playwright Konstantin (Jamison Foreman); his mother, Arkadina (Janis Dardaris); his girlfriend, Nina (Rachel Brodeur); Arkadina’s young boyfriend and successful writer, Trigorin (Josh Carpenter); Masha (Julia Frey), whose love for Konstantin controls her life; Medvedenko (Alexander Harvey), Masha’s long-suffering husband; and assorted other folk.
Arkadina runs off to Moscow with Trigorin, who’s really smitten with Nina, who goes to the big city to see him and become a famous actress, leaving Konstantin in the lurch.
The Quintessence production boasts some really good acting, most notably Jamison Foreman’s Konstantin; William Zielinski’s Yevgeni Dorn, a local doctor; Marcia Saunders’ Polina, Arkadina’s estate manager’s wife; and Robert Bauer’s Sorin, Arkadina’s brother and Konstantin’s uncle.
The rest of the performances ranged from the adequate — Alexander Harvey (Medvedenko), Rachel Brodeur (Nina) and Josh Carpenter (Trigorin) — to the less successful turns from the usually flawless Janis Dardaris (Arkadina) and the Johnny-one-note offering from Julia Frey (Masha).
Dardaris’ Arkadina suffered from what looked to be a paint-by-the-numbers approach to her character, a 50-ish actress who still thinks she could play Ophelia and Juliet. While it seems to have been director Alexander Burns’ intention to emphasize the comedy in a play that many think is really a tragedy, there were times when the laughter provoked came at the most inappropriate times.
The other difficulty with this production is the lack of connection between and among the characters who, from the text (here translated by Mike Poulton), should be interacting with passion, pain or pathos.
Some of that may come from the fact that Burns’ 13-member cast (the largest in Quintessence history) is of such varying ability that the less-accomplished actors didn’t have the chops to establish real relationships with characters limned by experienced, more-talented castmates.
Burns and designers Jason Howard (with Burns, the sets), Jane Casanave (costumes), Steven Cahill (composer and sound), Bruce Sternberg and Ellen Moore (the often tentative lighting) have given their cast an environment on which to create the characters and passions for which Chekhov is noted. Only when Foreman, Bauer, Zielinski and Saunders are in that environment does this production really capture the nuances and conflicting feelings that drive the play.
“The Seagull” should be much tougher than this production allows it to be. While it is good to show why Chekhov viewed this play as a comedy, it was a mistake to lose the serious, perhaps even tragic, underlying emotions that drive the residents of that beautiful lakeside Russian village.
For tickets to the Quintessence Theatre Group’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” playing through June 3 at the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy, call 877-238-5596 or visit www.quintessencetheatre.org
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