‘The Seagull’ Soars at The Huntington Theatre (4 Stars)

The Seagull, by Anton Chekov, translated by Paul Schmidt and directed by Maria Aitken. Presented by The Huntington Theatre Company, Avenue of the Arts, Boston, MA, through April 6.

As a huge Chekov fan, I would have run to this production, even if it starred Bozo the Clown and Tori Spelling. Luckily the current production at The Huntington Theatre Company has a cast and director who are adept with the text and understand that Chekov, even when presenting tragedy, is funny as hell.

The Seagull takes place at Sorin’s Farm, an estate owned by the brother of Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina (Kate Burton), a narcissistic actress who is dismissive of her son’s writing aspirations.  She has a much younger lover in tow, Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin (Ted Koch). Her son Konstantin (played by Burton’s real life son Morgan Ritchie) is in love with a naive aspiring actress, Nina (Auden Thornton).  Meanwhile, Masha (the excellent and droll Meredith Holzman) is in love with Konstantin, while poor schoolteacher Medvedenko (Nael Nacer) is in love with Masha.  Paulina Andreyevna (Nancy Carroll), married to the estate manager, Ilya (Don Sparks), is in love with the doctor, Yevgeny (Marc Vietor) who keeps her at arm’s length, despite their affair.  Nina falls deeply for Trigorin, who is bored with his life and needs a diversion (and a story idea).  Arkadina is not about to let him go. 

Chekov’s characters are always motivated by the longing for people and places they don’t have; they’re not so interested at what’s at hand.  Even Trigorin, a writer who has made it, complains that his work is unfavorably compared to Turgenev or Tolstoy.  The only one who remains amused and above the fray is Sorin, well played by the always excellent Thomas Derrah. 

Kate Burton does a wonderful job as Arkadina, a woman who can’t see past herself.  Burton has an easy likeability that serves the character well, for she is charming.  She plays the humor in Chekov’s lines effortlessly.  Morgan Ritchie does a terrific job as Konstantin, the son who desperately wants to earn his mother’s love, as well as a legitimate seat at her artistic  table.  He carries the character’s wounds with dignity, and has a very natural stage presence and delivery.  Nael Nacer is wonderfully self-effacing as Medvedenko, who despite marrying his love, Masha, never really possesses her.  Nancy Carroll, as Paulina, is also very funny – her facial expressions are hilarious.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the set, designed by Ralph Funicello.  The Huntington Theatre Company’s sets never disappoint and this one is beautiful.  The opening scene in the garden, of trees and Konstantin’s stark stage coupled with the James F. Ingalls’s gorgeous lighting – is stunning.  The drawing room of the farm is elegant yet somber, appropriate to the events that take place in the latter half of the play. 

Maria Atken’s direction is fluid and natural – the characters inhabit their environment in a way that is realistic, rather than stagey and mannered.  Jeff Marcus, June Baboian and Melissa Jesser – the Servant, the Cook and the Maid respectively – serve the family as well as make simple set changes look like part of their household duties.  One gets the feeling that the characters live on in that drawing room, long after the theater is empty. For more info, go to:  http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/2013-2014/seagull/