I was enchanted before a word was spoken. EgoPo's production of The Seagull, under Lane Savadove's gorgeous direction, is a pleasure to the eye as well as the ear, finding the lovely link between tragedy and comedy that is the Chekhov signature. The boredom, the ecstasy, the melancholy of it all.
A famous if aging actress, Arkadina (performed by Melanie Julian, who plays it as more desperate than diva) is visiting her family's summer house by the lake. Also on the scene is her lover, Trigorin (Ed Swidey), a successful if not actually great writer; and her son, a tormented novice playwright named Konstantin (Andrew Carroll), who is in love with Nina (Anna Zaida Szapiro), while Masha (Stephanie Iozzia) is in love with him. There is a doctor, Dorn (Eric Kramer), who is called on to minister to the ailing, aging Sorin (Aaron Cromie). The loud, mean-spirited manager of the estate, Shamrayev (Mark Knight), is married to the long-suffering Paulina (Kirsten Quinn), who is in love with the doctor.
This daisy chain of misbegotten romances continues to create jealousy and longing and self-pity until finally reaching a crescendo of misery. These people are constantly taking their emotional temperatures ("I'm not happy." "Why not?") while wishing they could live richer, fuller lives. Simultaneously The Seagull is a commentary on contemporary aesthetics, about the need for "new forms of art to show life as it is in dreams," which may be exactly what we're looking at as we watch this production.
Facing the enormous difficulty of delivering Chekhov's long monologues -- whining at great length, pontificating at greater length -- this ensemble does itself proud. The trick is to make the language sound like natural speech while giving the self-dramatizing and the self-important room to show themselves. But the actors also have to deliver the pathos, making the melodramatic genuinely dramatic, making us feel the melancholy; we scoff at these characters at our peril.
Andrew Carroll, an exceptionally gifted comic actor, here establishes his tragic credentials, creating a Konstantin who is both absurd and profoundly pitiable. Anna Zaida Szapiro is lovely as Nina, moving from a young, impressionable girl who wants to be "spectacularly famous" to, several years later, a disappointed, self-deluded woman. Masha (Stephanie Iozzia), who wears black because she is "in mourning for [her] life," makes the compromises the others are unwilling to make, and, like her namesake in Three Sisters, ends up disappointed, the wife of a boring schoolteacher (Dane Eissler).
But the star of the show may well be Thom Weaver, the set designer, who has created a lake for a stage. With stepping-stones to reach the wooden platform, with long dresses trailing in the water, with daisies and candlelit magic, the atmosphere evokes a dreamscape. But watching actors slosh through the water is to suggest the labor of the sheer movement: how ludicrous this slogging through life is, how hard it is to reach someone a few feet away. The costumes by Rita Squitiere are superb: formal, gorgeous, and wet.