"It's so difficult to act in your play, there are no living characters in it," the naïve Nina (Charlotte Fox) says to Konstantin (Matthew Puett) in
Anton Chekhov's masterpiece, The Seagull. ***image1***
The story, set in the late 1800s, revolves around Russia's petite bourgeoisie, who loaf around the country estate of Sorin (Kevin Atkinson) and think about what to do with their lives. Irina Arkadina (Magdalen Zinky) is the sister of Sorin and a famous actress whose glory has faded. Irina's troubled son, Konstantin, wants to be a writer like Irina's boy-toy, Trigorin (Sam Quinn), but doesn't rival Trigorin in talent, accomplishment or Nina's affections.
As the plot unfolds, it is revealed that everything is not as it should be for the privileged elite. What is exceptional about The Seagull is its critique of upper-class existence through the depiction of ordinary madness. The characters are so bored with their delusions and inactivity that they love someone who doesn't love them back. Talent is wasted, dreams are inaccessible and time destroys human life slowly. Still, the stalking presence of death cannot deter the characters' drive toward unattainable happiness.
Though intended to be a comedy, the legendary Russian actor and teacher Konstantin Stanislavski developed the play into modern interpretations of the tragic comedy.
The students at the College of Santa Fe's Performing Arts program render an accurate portrayal of the basic structure of the play. But it is the background players and unseen crew that upstage the primaries.
The set stimulates the imagination with nine barren trees that reach to the roof of the Greer Garson house and surround a circular wooden patio. ***image2***However, the trees seem absurd when the action moves indoors in the second half of the production. The background scrim reflects a dark blue and purple scenery that resembles a vast lake. The set changes are precise, practiced and fast, mostly carried out by the actors themselves, which helps the pace of the play, especially considering the one-dimensional delivery of monologues (Charlotte Fox's jocular manifestation of Konstantin's written work notwithstanding). Light and set productions are innovative, symbolic and simple. Costumes are immaculate. The makeup defies age barriers and the sound design is so subtle and synchronized that it adds to what is, overall, a professionally run theater. It's amazing what money can do.
As an ensemble the piece flows. The two "play-within-a-play" sequences are remarkable, but the primary actors should retire early from theater and try film. The interpersonal relationships between Nina, Konstantin, Trigorin, and Arkadina seem to be more of a contest of who looks cuter on stage than a show of depth and personal investment. Benny Briseno (Dorn), Levi Lawson (Shamrayer) and Matthew K Gutierrez (Medvedenko) have more to offer as real actors than the smarmy conceit of Quinn, the constant gasping of Fox, the wanna-be Hepburn overacting of Zinky or the "look at me, I'm on stage" presence of Puett.
If the point of casting was to show the difficulty of acting in a play without living characters in it, then it works. The show is worth seeing, even if it's just for the laughs.