Review: ‘The Seagull’ at The Wheel Theatre Company

An aspiring playwright and son loves an aspiring actress and ingenue. A famous actress and mother loves a famous writer and inconstant. Life doesn’t often provide neat parallels between generations for a look at inter-generational obsessions and frictions, but for Anton Chekhov’s melodrama, The Seagull, doing so was almost prophetic. Combined with an estate manager, a wife, a doctor, a retired civil servant, a schoolteacher, and a girl who dreams of death, these were the sad and ordinary lives at the center of this Wheel Theatre Company production, adapted and directed by Jack Read. Set in the Russian countryside around the turn of the century, The Seagull peers in on the lives of 10 intimate strangers who know everything and yet nothing about one another.

Colton Needles (Dorn), Olivia Haller (Arkadina), Adrian Iglesias (Shamrayev), Thomas Shuman (Trigorin), Elizabeth Floyd (Polina) and Madeline Mooney (Masha) in 'The Seagull.' Photo by Ted Johnson.
Colton Needles (Dorn), Olivia Haller (Arkadina), Adrian Iglesias (Shamrayev), Thomas Shuman (Trigorin), Elizabeth Floyd (Polina) and Madeline Mooney (Masha) in ‘The Seagull.’ Photo by Ted Johnson.

A very Russian play in all senses (where everything and everyone was a level or two more unhappy or agonized or drunk or simple than most of the people we meet in our daily lives), this production is creative in the way it uses this environment of hyperbolic familiarity to examine the ordinary. Quite a lot happens and yet not much changes and no one person is really the focus or the protagonist or antagonist.

While there was some lack of connection between the characters at points, individually, the actors did quite well setting up shop and living in their roles for the 100-minute one-act play. Of the younger pair of lovers, the struggling writer, Konstantin (Aron Spellane), had the nervous habit of shaking his leg and snapping a rubber band around his wrist as if to bring himself into sharper focus as he pinned for the love of the ephemeral Nina (Gracie Eda Baker).

Of the older pair, Konstantin’s mother, Arkadina (Olivia Haller) was a fascinating combination of hard, critical, and intolerable, which melted into some of the most moving passages of the show when her love, the famous writer Trigorin (Thomas Shuman), tried to break away. Shuman himself had a knack for pulling Trigorin’s many long monologues into pieces, much like the writer himself dissecting his story.

Equally morose was Masha (Madeline Mooney). Obsessed with death and living in sorrow, she was not just resigned to never obtaining her love but leaned fully into a marriage that guaranteed her unhappiness. Drinking, sniffing, and perpetual sardonic, Masha was in complete contrast to Medvedenko (Amber James), whose naïve joy for the banal side of life was charming. The estate manager, Shamrayev (Adrian Iglesias), wore a constant frown and slouched from too much work and too little wisdom. His wife, Polina (Elizabeth Floyd), longed for a connection with a country doctor, Dorn (Colton Needles), and Arkadina’s older brother, Sorin (Axandre Oge), was a delightful eccentric, pleased to live out his days in support of his family but not in sacrifice of his will or memorable style. All added to the quilt of shared human misfortune and empathy throughout the performance in quiet ways that really resonated individually.

As a welcome balance to the somber overarching themes, was the sharp direction by Jack Read that orchestrated a steady and delightful pace of one-liners and glib asides, which more often than not spoke plain, unfiltered truth in a way that only theater can. Read also did a good job of using all sides and stairs of the small black box theater to expand the play’s world beyond its four walls. The black painted brick was well accented by the Set/Props Design of Elizabeth Floyd in a minimalist interpretation of the idyllic Russian countryside, and the original music of Simon Kiser paired with the Lighting Design of Brooke Gorsica did a good job of bringing the audience into the mood of the play even before (all) the actors appeared.

Axandre Oge (Sorin) and Aron Spellane (Konstantin) in 'The Seagull.' Photo by Ted Johnson.
Axandre Oge (Sorin) and Aron Spellane (Konstantin) in ‘The Seagull.’ Photo by Ted Johnson.

In The Seagull, we meet characters with hopes, dreams, and disappointments already in motion. With so many intertwining, focusing, and fading parts, it was hard to find a true sense of beginning or ending, but perhaps that is what makes Chekhov and this particular production so hypnotic. Their ability to convey the desperate ordinary in a group of individuals as steady, gentle waves like those on the lake at Sorin’s country estate; never starting, never stopping, but always there. For those looking for an introspective and subtext-laden evening to pass in the company of 10 unhappy souls and a few dozen fellow audience members, this Wheel Theatre Company production of The Seagull is just the ticket.

Running Time: 100 Minutes with no intermission

The Seagull by The Wheel Theatre Company plays through March 30th, 2019, at DC Arts Center – 2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC. Tickets are available online.


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