WELLFLEET, Mass. — The Harbor Stage Company’s new adaptation of “The Seagull” is a meticulously acted and accessible version of Anton Chekhov’s modern masterpiece. Artistic Director Robert Kropf, who both adapted and directed the show, presents the audience with a concentrated rendition of the four-act drama. The initial cast of 13 is now six, and many scenes have been cut. Although Chekhov purists may balk (during intermission, there was one disgruntled gentleman bemoaning the loss of a favorite minor character), there are no weak links in this show: What the new production lacks in faithfulness to Chekhov’s script, it makes up for with superb acting and direction.
Five out of the six performers are founding members of the Harbor Stage Company, now in its second year. The venue is a familiar spot for long-time visitors to the Cape, as the Company mounts its shows on the Wellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theater’s (WHAT’s) celebrated original harbor stage.
Rife with tension, delusion, passion and despair, Kropf’s new adaptation strips each character down to his or her essence. By the end of the first act, there’s a clear sense of each character’s desires, relationships — and breaking points. Kropf’s interpretation is seamless: He addresses the script’s pervasive sense of apprehension and yet also pays tribute to the comedy that eludes other directors.
The story hasn’t changed. Friends and relatives gather for a little R&R at a lakeside country house. Fading actress Arkadina (played by Brenda Withers), and her new beau, Trigorin (Jonathan Fielding) along with friends Masha (Stacy Fisher) and Doctor Dorn (Lewis D. Wheeler) are subjected to a play by Arkadina’s volatile son, Konstantine (Alex Pollock, the only cast member not a part of the company.) Nina (Amanda Collins) plays muse to Konstantine, enacting his impenetrable composition with a seriousness that draws laughter from both audiences. Withers’ Arkadina both annoys and amuses with her blatant pretension, and yet it’s her unpredictability that engrosses us: she is viciously unaware of her effect on her son, and watching her flip between scorn and horrified guilt at the result of her actions provides some of the production’s strongest moments.
It’s rather remarkable how Kropf and the cast sustain the emotion throughout the 2 ½-hour production; there are no dead spots. There is, though, an equally admirable use of silence. As Konstantine’s play-within-a-play begins, the group of actors on stage go suddenly still. Arkadina perches on her chair with her head cocked, lips pursed and eyes wide, at once skeptical, tense, and haughty. Lewis Wheeler’s Dr. Dorn is an unassuming presence as he sits placidly, lacing his hands over his crossed knee, looking on with a polite expression. These sudden silences highlight the taut atmosphere in the theater while also giving us a glimpse into each character’s personality. What we sense is often more unsettling than not, especially in the case of Withers’s Arkadina and Pollock’s Konstantine.
The Harbor Stage Company’s show represents a revival of the gritty, unembellished theater that the venue is known for. With a powerhouse founding company and compelling additions to the ensemble, the artist-run collective delivers a fearless, emotive production worthy of the harbor stage’s long history.
Although “The Seagull” only runs until July 13, Bostonians will be able to see it Sept. 19-22 at the Modern Theatre downtown. The Harbor Stage Company follows Chekhov with an original piece (“The Billingsgate Project,” written by Withers and produced in conjunction with Wellfleet’s 250th anniversary) beginning July 18, and Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” directed by Jeff Zinn, running from Aug. 15-Sept. 7.
This program aired on July 11, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.