- OnStage New York Critic
ASTORIA NY - Exploring the not beaten paths of off-off-Broadway brought me to the parking lot of the after-school club for kids in Astoria, NY. Making my way between school buses, I enter the theater where the production of Chekhov’s Seagull is about to take place. You need to cross the gym where a bunch of children are playing basketball to obnoxiously loud music to go to the bathroom, an adventure that might seem challenging for the theater snobs. But don’t let the exterior repel you. Once you enter the black box, you are in the warm embrace of professionals, the Ophelia Theater Group.
Seats for the audience are a continuation of the set design by Shelby Lee Loera, the centerpiece of which is a multi-level stage looking like a few docks stack on top of each other. The concession stand is a part of the set and members of the audience are welcome to buy refreshments. By extending the set and the action to the audience, the production already includes the viewer into the Chekhov’s play. The adaptation of the 19th century text by Sarah Victoria Bennett (executive director and the founder of the Ophelia Theater Group) brings it even closer to today’s young person’s experience while still maintaining layered drama and highlighting the comedic aspect.
As Masha (Brittney Moss) and Medvedenko (Ian Petersen), simply called Med, enter, they immediately grab a couple of beers. Med asks Masha, eyeing her Goth outfit, why she is dressed in all black. “I am in mourning for my life!” – pathetically exclaims the young girl and we see how sharp and funny Chekhov’s classic line is, even in this modernized version of The Seagull, especially when paired with a plastic baggie full of pills which Masha hides in a book of poetry while taking one occasionally.
The colorful characters fill the stage. The charm and tension of Chekhov’s writing comes from the interplay of the ensemble. It is not an easy task for a director to cast precisely and direct eleven people, but John Robert Hoffman executed his job well.
Some of the supporting actors demonstrated a fresh and lively take on their characters. Landon Sutton playing Sham, the estate manager, offered us a slimy theater enthusiast with occasional bursts of impudence towards his employer. The kitschy, bright dress shirts with matching ties added perfectly to his pretentious personality. His wife, Polina played by Layla Sutton, was a suitable match to him.
Among the main characters, Arkadina, the owner of the estate, was expressively written and performed. Amie Cazel beautifully delivers the angst and the hysteria of an actress who is terrified of getting old and losing her career and her lover, but maintains a poised and sarcastic facade. She succeeded in embracing both the classical tension of Chekhov’s play and the humorous tone of the modern rendition by Sarah Bennett. Unfortunately, some of the actors got stuck in the limbo somewhere in between.
The complex writing of The Seagull makes it difficult for the cast of mainly young actors to find their voice. But even with some minor asperities, The Seagull by Ophelia Theater Group is worth seeing and supporting.
Don’t miss the last performances of The Seagull: on Friday, May 13th and Saturday, May 14th. More information and tickets here: opheliatheatre.com