Review: The Seagull by Theatre at UBC
Theatre at UBC’s The Seagull is a handsome portrait of desperation, ambition, pretence, and heartache. Director Kathleen Duborg leads her young cast in a fast-moving, dynamic production where the ennui so often associated with Chekhov is in short supply. Instead, the characters’ actions take on an almost manic air, as they doggedly chase glimmers of hope down ultimately futile paths.
Its events unfold on a lakeside country estate owned by the aging actress Irina, one of four characters whose collective, entangled relations are both protagonist and plot. Irina uses the estate as a summer home, dragging cultured companions and lovers in tow, most recently the populist author Trigorin. Her son Konstantin lives at the estate year-round in a state of self-induced suffering, feeling his art is unsupported by his family and harbouring burning jealously for Trigorin and his mother’s cadre of elites. The only redeeming element to Konstantin’s existence is its proximity to Nina, a fresh faced innocent who dreams of escaping her parents repression by becoming an actress in the city.
As age and experience are so central to the story’s development, it is somewhat strange initially to see all these characters- including mother and son- played by actors of a similar age. This soon fades however, as the performers sink into Chekhov’s rich and nuanced roles. As Irina, Mercedes de la Zerda finds just the right note of frantic overcompensation as the bubbly life of the party. Offering counterpoint to her gaiety, Thomas Elms’ turn as her son sparks with wild, fanatic intensity in the first act, before honing to laser focus with the passage of time.
As Nina, the object of Konstantin’s affection, Natasha Zacher abandons the demureness of an ingenue and instead adopts an awkward over-enthusiasm. When we are told her footsteps are approaching, it is not dainty crunching of gravel we hear, but a full-out clomping sprint. This forward quality plays wonderfully against Matt Kennedy’s Trigorin, who brings a soft, hesitant vulnerability to a role that easily could have been arrogant and cynical.
Their lives spill out on Elliot Squire’s beautifully conceived set. With the Chan Centre’s Telus Studio laid out in a thrust configuration, the audience sits on three sides of an open floor painted like sun bleached wood. At the back wall the floor swoops up toward the ceiling, painted with what looks like dripping oil stains. It is a beautiful effect that both evokes the lakeside setting and radiates ambiance under Lauren Stewart’s lighting.
The themes of The Seagull are myriad, expansive, and in many ways, quite like a Rorschach Test. Different viewers- indeed, even the same viewer at different points in their life- will discover varying meanings and import in the play. This is a beautiful and rare thing that will remain long after the play ends.
I therefore will stop here, lest I reveal too much of myself in speaking of significance, but encourage readers to attend this atmospheric production and discover what it has to tell them about themselves.
The Seagull runs until February 8, 2014.