AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Anton Chekhov
New version by Libby Appel
from a literal translation by Allison Horsley
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Boyer Theatre
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA / Phone (415) 388-5208

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Marin Theatre Company has scored something of an artistic coup by staging the world premiere of Libby Appel's new version of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull." Commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where Appel was artistic director from 1995-2007. this new version comes from a literal translation by Allison Horsley and restores passages that were cut by Russian censors or stage directors.

The plot and setting remain the same, however. The action takes place on a country estate outside Kiev during the late 1890s. The plot features several romantic triangles, unrequited love and thwarted dreams. The story begins as Kostya (John Tufts) has written a short play and has invited family and friends to see a preview starring his beloved Nina (Christine Albright), a neighbor.

The audience includes Kostya's uncle, Pyotr Sorin (Richard Farrell), who owns the estate; and Kostya's mother, Irina (Tess Malis Kincaid), a famous actress who is Pyotr's sister. Also in the audience is Irina's young lover, Boris Trigorin (Craig Marker), a famous, prolific writer; Yevgenii Dorn (Howard Swain), a local doctor; Ilya Shamrayev (Michael Ray Wisely), the estate's manager; Polina (Julia Brothers), his wife; Masha (Liz Sklar), their morose daughter; and Semyon Medvedenko (Peter Ruocco), a schoolteacher.

Kostya's relationship with his self-centered mother is complicated. Complications involving other characters also are seen. For example, Semyon loves Masha, who loves Kostya, who loves Nina, who falls in love with Trigorin. Polina loves the doctor. Most of them make the wrong choices or become so mired in inertia that they can't extricate themselves. Only the doctor and Sorin seem to have come to terms with and accepted their circumstances. The others, except for the oblivious Ilya, tend to do a lot of agonizing.

The cast is excellent. A special nod goes to the chemistry between Tufts' Kostya and Albright's Nina, perhaps stemming from their OSF experience. For the most part, MTC artistic director Jasson Minadakis paces the action well. Still, the production runs nearly three hours. The lighting is by Joan Arhelger with costumes by Antonia Ford-Roberts, and music and sound by Chris Houston. Robert Mark Morgan's set features stout birch trunks, starting with a relative few for the outdoors in the first act and adding more in subsequent acts. By the final act, the combination of these timbers and grid-like windows makes the interior of the house resemble a prison.

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