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Theater Review

A Noise Within's Staging of 'Seagull' Falters in Flight

April 17, 1998|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It must be a challenge to make each new production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" distinctive. At A Noise Within, director Sabin Epstein has a few ideas, but most of them don't work.

Treplev, the 25-year-old would-be writer, gets a frantic, effeminate interpretation from Patrick Richwood, complete with slight lisp. Black-garbed Masha's love for him is difficult to fathom; she even singles out his "beautiful, wistful voice."

At least Hisa Takakuwa's Masha makes it clear that she perversely enjoys her gloom: In one clever line of Allison Comins-Richmond's new translation, Masha offers to repeat a self-dramatizing statement, just in case the note-taking Trigorin missed it.

Gail Shapiro plays Nina, the beautiful neighbor and budding actress who is adored by Treplev and admired by nearly all the men. Characters twice tell Nina how young she is or looks; she's half the age of the veteran actress Arkadina (Jenna Cole). Yet Shapiro's Nina looks not much younger. When Arkadina boasts that she could still play a teenager, it's supposed to be amusing, yet Shapiro is in much the same position here.

Too bad that this version couldn't give Nina some lines in which she mockingly recites Treplev's play behind his back. Reportedly from an original draft, these lines were restored by Milena Albert in her staging at the Hollywood Court last January. This might have helped Shapiro demonstrate the comic edge that she has employed well in other productions.

Cole is splendid; to be able to trace her path from a similarly high-flying role in "Design for Living" last fall into Arkadina is one of the pleasures of repertory. Even more fascinating is to observe Robertson Dean's journey in the opposite direction, from flamboyant fop in "The Learned Ladies" last fall to his cool, masculine Trigorin here. Joel Swetow and Stephen Rockwell make the doctor and the teacher, respectively, more substantial than usual.

Abetted by Norman L. Berman's tremulous recorded strings, the production design starts out well, although the estate manager's initial suit doesn't make the customary class distinction. The last act is mainly candlelit, a picturesque effect that also enervates the exchange between the two most miscast characters. And why doesn't the flowery foliage at the rear, still dimly visible, change over time?

* "The Seagull," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tonight at 8; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; April 25, 29-30, May 8, 16, 20-22, 8 p.m.; April 26, 7 p.m.; May 9, 2 and 8 p.m.; May 17, 2 p.m.; May 24, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends May 24. $22-$27. (818) 546-1924. At Torrance Cultural Arts Center, May 29, 8 p.m.; $18; (310) 781-7171. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Jenna Cole: Arkadina

Patrick Richwood: Treplev

Robertson Dean: Trigorin

Gail Shapiro: Nina

Mark Bramhall: Sorin

Mitchell Edmonds: Shamrayev

Emily Heebner: Polina

Hisa Takakuwa: Masha

Joel Swetow: Dorn

Stephen Rockwell: Medvedenko

By Anton Chekhov. Translated by Allison Comins-Richmond. Adapted and directed by Sabin Epstein. Music by Norman L. Berman. Set and costumes by Angela Balogh Calin. Lighting by Ken Booth. Sound by Jeff Fairbanks. Stage manager Carol Doehring.

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