REVIEW: Oakland University’s ‘Seagull’ Dives Deep Into Human Nature

I am sure at one point on my journey to obtain my English degree years ago that the works of Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904) and I crossed paths. To be honest, I really don’t remember, which is why I welcomed the opportunity to attend the opening night performance of the Oakland University School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s production of one of his seminal works, Seagull, under the direction of Lynnae Lehfeldt and translated by Curt Columbus.

Divided into four acts, the story unfolds in the Russian countryside outside of Moscow during the 1890s. The play is part of Chekhov’s Realistic Movement. In his day, plays of this new genre sought to distance itself from melodrama by focusing on observing the human behavior of subjects dealing with everyday problems. And believe me when I say all the characters in Seagull come with plenty of troubles.

Nina (Alaina Whidby) and Constantine (Connor Rajan) are hopeful idealists in Anton Chekhov’s ‘Seagull.’

Photo credit: JLBoone Photography

Desire and despair are woven into the DNA of every character. Many are longing for someone just out of reach. Semyon (Mikey Davis) clumsily shows interest in Masha (Em Thomas) who in turn pines for Constantine (Connor Rajan). Alas, he only has eyes for Nina (Alaina Whidby). Paulina (Krissy Castellese) seems chomping at the bit to leave her husband Ilya (Noah Fillion) if only Dr. Yevgeny Dorn (Dryden Zurawski) could be convinced to run away with her. Then there are those who aren’t chasing after people, but rather ambitions. Peter (Brandon Wright) is in his 60s and constantly expressing his desire to experience what lies outside his small sphere of knowledge. Whereas his sister and Constantine’s mother, famous actress Irina Arkadina (Mariah Colby), is vapid, controlling, and above all, deathly afraid of losing her youth. As Constantine confirms early in Act 1: “She wants to live, to love, to wear bright-colored blouses, but I am already twenty-five and I remind her she’s no longer young.” Finally, there is writer Boris Trigorin (Doran Berger) who appears confident, but secretly suppresses a great deal of self-loathing for his talent and the idea of fame. It seems Constantine and Nina are the only characters willing to cast off complacency to dream beyond the hand they’ve been dealt. But even that doesn’t always ensure a happy ending.

You may be wondering how the title, Seagull, ties into all this. The bird is referenced throughout the play as a symbol of escape from reality and as a creature out of its element. What is happiness? Who has it and who deserves it? The answers are what Chekhov implored his audiences to consider. The idea of longing and search for identity are not new, but they are worth exploring. This is what makes the performances given by these university students all the more impressive. The material is meaty and each actors makes the most of the portion he or she is given. You want to smack Irina for being so manipulative and Boris for being weak and vain. At the same time your heart breaks for Constantine and Nina because their inner turmoil is so visibly etched on their faces and in the way they carry themselves. These actors aren’t simply speaking their lines, but going all in and inhabiting their characters’ neuroses. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating to watch and all involved should be commended for the level of professionalism they bring to the performance.

While this is obviously a drama, there are moments of levity. For me, most of them came from Masha. Em Thomas brilliantly conveyed her indifference with snarky wit and impeccable delivery as shown when she tells Dr. Dorn not to scold her for drinking: “Don’t look at me like that. Women drink more often than you think.” Intended or not, Masha is the comic relief this play needs to offset its more serious undertones.

The play runs a little over two hours with a 12-minute intermission. Please be advised that during the show a gun is used, so there will be a loud noise. Also, seats stage right and left, in particular, will give you a very intimate view of the performance. How intimate? Well, one of the women seated behind me lost a large hoop earring, which fell and clattered right onto the stage. To their credit, if the actors noticed they never let on.

Tickets are $15 for the general public; $8 for students and the 10 a.m. matinee and can be purchased at StarTickets.com. The performance is held in the Varner Studio Theatre on the campus of Oakland University.

Remaining Performances

Friday, February 8, 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, February 15, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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