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Theater | Stage Review

Changes Clip 'Seagull's' Wings

May 06, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hunger Artists Theatre Company is one of those vibrant young groups that has the courage to do outlandish theater and come up a winner much of the time. But like all such companies, every once in a while its aim is far to one side of its target.

That's the case with its production of a new adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull." The adaptation is by company member Russell Dunn, who also directs and plays the central role of Constantine Treplev.

Like the attorney who defends himself only to find he has a fool for a client, Dunn can't avoid the fact that the three hats he's wearing have a habit of slipping down and covering his eyes, and his ears.

In his program notes, Dunn says he didn't want to get "caught up in the trappings of an antiquated time and an exotic foreign culture."

While some of his changes are slightly anachronistic, they are are not the problem. The problem is that many moments lose the elegance of Chekhov's writing.

Dunn asks, "How many people really know what a samovar is?" Well, for starters, the play's famous actress Irina Arkadina, who has returned to her estate, and her adored circle, knows. It is part of her world.

Her aging and very ill brother, Sorin, also knows about samovars, the Russian teakettle. He has watched his bubble as he has watched the volatile emotions around him bubble.

So does her son, Constantine, who imagines his talent outshines his mother's and believes their karma will never desert him, and that the samovar, like his dreams, will always be perking.

Outside of the silliness of the adapter's disregard for the poetic quality of Chekhov's writing, and the aura of a world in which Arkadina honestly belongs, in watering down the language, he also has watered down the performances, particularly his own as Arkadina's foolish and obstreperous son.

The relationship between Arkadina and her son is central to the drama: his dreams of theatrical glory, though the avant-garde play he presents to his mother is ludicrous, and her dreams that Constantine might find a career as a civil servant. Neither Dunn nor Gigi Parker as his mother bring much life to their characters.

Trevor Murphy's colorless schoolteacher, Medvedenko, usually seems to be thinking of something other than Russia, or Chekhov, and Bill Meadows' estate manager, Shamrayev, appears to be from another play entirely. Stu Eriksen's Sorin is a bit too subdued, but he knows what Chekhov is about, and Mark Coyan's Trigorin, the famous author who is Arkadina's current boy toy, is also Chekhovian and might look stronger in a better production.

Understudy Eric Person, playing Dorn, the local doctor, gives a refreshingly lucid performance. The highlights of this troubled staging are Allison Fedrick's deliciously theatrical Masha, the alcoholic, bitter young woman who marries Medvedenko out of spite, and Harmony Revis' solid Nina, who tries to trick her way into the theater, through Trigorin's brief infatuation, but ends up forlorn and lost.

Fedrick and Revis can't save the production, but their intriguing performances brighten the evening.

BE THERE

"The Seagull," Hunger Artists Theatre, 204 E. 4th St., Santa Ana. 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday. $12. Ends Sunday. (714) 547-9100. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.[end ital]

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