… and a gem

The Seagull

Rated 3.0 Actors and writers have always loved The Seagull—and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, the play is about them.

The story involves an established actress (a clothes horse living in resolute denial that, at 40-something, she’s too old to play teenage girls) and her lover, a successful writer. Right alongside you’ll find a nervous wannabe playwright and a very young aspiring actress.

Mix in an assortment of comic foils, as well as several attempts at romance, and set the story at a summer lakeside retreat, where these comfortably affluent people chat and play games, trying to—entertain themselves, even as they realize that life is quietly slipping through their fingers.

Chekhov, alas, is a rare pleasure in these parts. He may be one of the greatest playwrights since the invention of the telephone—a device briefly mentioned in this play—but it’s been years since I’ve seen a production of one of his “comedies” in Sacramento. The last was about five years ago, also produced by the Actors Theatre; the B Street ventured into Chekhov once when that company was in its infancy.

The Seagull calls for a cast of 13—a hefty payroll if you’re talking union actors, and an awful lot of costumes for a community group. (This production was made possible by garments on loan from the Music Circus.)

It is a chamber production on a shoestring budget, featuring a cast that ranges from professional (Ed Claudio) to some talented community actors, as well as a few who are still learning the ropes. Of necessity, that makes for an uneven outcome, and this group isn’t as consistent as the one Claudio brought together for Chekhov’s Three Sisters in the ’90s. Nonetheless, there are some quite successful scenes, including a lovely bit of frank talk about careers that segues neatly into romance, enacted by cast members Brian Henderson (the writer) and Greta Gerwig (the aspiring actress), followed by a hilarious hijacking involving Henderson and Nancy Westergaard (the successful actress).

A lot of the first act, and parts of the fourth, are less engaging. But this show is sparking on enough cylinders that you can enjoy the overall experience, even if the show doesn’t deliver at a consistently high level throughout. And co-directors Anthony D’Juan and Claudio deserve extra appreciation for bringing a classic like The Seagull to a local stage.