Emily White ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Huntington Theatre Company producer Peter DuBois compared the emotional landscape of the characters in a Chekhov play to an earthquake, describing the audience’s experience as “getting the surface of those tremors, but [they] sense that what’s happening underneath is enormous.” This is exactly the feeling that the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Seagull provokes.
The production transports the audience beautifully back to Russia in the 1890s, with wonderfully accurate costumes and sets, but at the same time feeling extremely relevant as the characters experience the same complex emotional struggles that still plague us today. Each of the characters seems to find most beautiful that which another character finds most rotten in themselves. They survive by allowing themselves to live in a state of blissful ignorance, but also in constant disconnect and dissatisfaction with their lot, which ultimately leads to their downfall.
The Seagull takes place over a period of several years at a lake house in Russia. The cast of characters includes the depressed Masha (Meredith Holzman), who pines with unrequited love for Konstantin (Morgan Ritchie) and is loved by the meek schoolteacher, Medvedenko (Nael Nacer). Konstantin wants only to be a great writer, making strides in new and experimental plays, and to be successful like Trigorin (Ted Koch). Konstantin also wants the love of the young and hopeful Nina (Auden Thornton), who strives to be a great actress like Irina.
At the center of the play is Trigorin’s lover and Konstantin’s mother, Irina, played by Kate Burton, well-known for her role as Vice President Sally Langston on ABC’s Scandal. Burton plays Irina, a self-centered and self-indulgent actress, with a beautiful and at times painful reckless abandon for all those around her. Throughout most of the play she is a performance of herself, and Burton performs her with charming comedic gusto. Burton’s real-life son plays Irina’s son, Konstantin. The mother-son duo is sparked the timing of this production, which has been in the works at the Company for a while.
Yet the timing could not have been better, given the recent surge of interest in Chekhovian theatre in Boston this year. With Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Man in a Case, Actor Shakespeare Project’s The Cherry Orchard, and Apollinaire Theatre Company’s upcoming Stupid F**king Bird, it is interesting to see so many different interpretations of Chekov’s plays at this time.
The Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Seagull is one of the productions most true to Chekhov’s original format, and the production gets at some of the reasons why his plays might be so popular right now. All of his plays include some sort of disconnect between the characters on an emotional level. They are unhappy because they can only survive by airing their grievances and then refusing to act upon or deal with them. This disconnect with those closest around us is something we experience perhaps even more so today than in the 19th century, with the ever-present distraction of narcissistic technology pulling us away from true and scary real-life interactions.
The pathetically desperate relationships demonstrated in The Seagull get us to re-evaluate our own relationships and inspire us to act upon our desires and instincts rather than suppress ourselves through façades. For Chekhov’s characters, these façades are the false social personas of the characters. For us, perhaps, our façades are the screens that keep us from looking each other in the eye.
The Seagull runs until April 6 at the Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre. For tickets or more information click here.