Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., Feb. 9, 2001
Anton Chekhov's The Seagull: Where Theatre Gets Messy ... And Joyful
ACC Gallery Theatre,
through February 12
Subtext in a play is that entire unspoken world that includes what the characters really think of themselves, of each other, of the universe. And rehearsals are also a form of subtext, where actors get a chance to explore the world of the play and the myriad inter-relationships between their characters and the others with whom they share the stage during an impending performance -- without the pressure of having to get it "right" in the presence of an audience. This means that rehearsals are full of gaffes, fluffs, jokes, encouragement, great moments of discovery, and stretches of boredom, none of which the audience sees in the final version of the play, but all of which helps to give a performance a unique, immediate life.
This is The Seagull as envisioned by adapter-director Guy Roberts and his talented cast, a subtextual Seagull, a Seagull as a rehearsal, rather than performance. So cast members are costumed to varying degrees, the set is whatever tables, chairs, and rehearsal sittables that can be cobbled together, there are stretches of dialogue by Chekhov interspersed with ad libs and subtextual observations by all the actors, there is a cigarette break, and so on. Pinned to the walls surrounding the ACC Gallery Theatre stage are costume drawings, set drawings, maps of Russia, a book's worth of background material, and all manner of rehearsal-specific organizational charts, for example: where to place furniture and an actor sign-in sheet.
Most of this works terrifically well. Actor-insights -- modern and personal -- are usually hilarious, turning scenes inside-out to illuminate the play's darkest details, and the between-scenes work allows the audience to watch the nuts and bolts of how a show is put together. The dramaturgical and design elements on the walls inform effectively. Roberts asks audience members to take notes (pens and pads provided) to give him to relay to the ensemble following the runthrough of the play (if it gets all the way to the end on any given evening). As for the performance aspects of this rehearsal: The play is staged cleanly and the actors give exceptionally deep characterizations of Chekhov's collection of forlorn lovers, art snobs, laggards, and egocentric country folk.
If there are places where the rehearsal loses focus, these usually occur when actors really start to perform for the audience. Here exploration ceases and, oddly, the play feels less compelling. This is as true for what sounds like scripted inter-scene dialogue as well as Chekhov's words. But the whole effect of this pseudo-behind-the-scenes work is joyful, and the ensemble should be congratulated for allowing the audience into the sometimes messy, personal world of the rehearsal.