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‘Seagull’ soars at Players

Strong female roles, actresses carry the show

Can we survive without true love? And if love never transcends the limitations of selfish ends, does it ever really pierce the heart of its object? These are the unstated questions that leap off the stage in the Peterborough Players’ production of “Seagull” by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

Players Artistic Director Gus Kaikkonen has chosen a worthy play to adapt. Kaikkonen’s version stays true to the play’s 1895 origins in Russia, with pleasing period costumes, music and set design that transport the audience to a lakeside estate, where the competing interests and desires of the play’s characters converge.

The show opens hopeful with young Konstantine, played by Jed Resnick, preparing to debut his new kind of theater before an audience that includes his mother, the famous actress Irina Arkadina, and her lover, Boris Trigorin, who is himself a celebrated writer. But things quickly turn sour as Konstantine’s play fails to win hearts, especially his mother’s. In his grief, life begins to unravel; Konstantine’s desperation for love — both the love of his mother and his girlfriend, Nina — leaves him inconsolable.

And Konstantine isn’t the only one feeling desperate. Both Masha and her mother, Polina, suffer from unrequited love, too. What seems to unite a number of characters is an overwhelming feeling of being trapped by life’s circumstances, and for some of them the result is an almost pathological self-obsession.

Unique among them is Dr. Dorn — played by Dublin’s Tim Clark. His is the sole character that demonstrates an ability to really see and listen to others. Dorn believes in Konstantine in a way his self-absorbed mother does not or cannot, and he tries to nurture Konstantine’s gifts. But will that be enough to carry the young artist through life? The difficulty of bridging the divide between people of different generations and from town and country come through clearly, and without empathy and compassion the audience sees how impossible a task it can be.

In the second half of this dark comedy, certain characters come face to face with the consequences of their actions and that of others, some of whom are blissfully unaware of how the lives around them have been affected. Talene Monahon, who plays Polina, portrays her character’s heartache with an emotional outburst that touches the heart. What is so powerful about Monahon’s performance, like that of Erin Neufer who plays Nina, is her obvious vulnerability and sincerity.

Neufer gives a stand out performance as a young woman who has given her heart to an older man with ties to another, and then finds her sanity slipping away. Konstantine’s love for Nina is constant, but whether his heart can survive her heart’s wanderings is another question.

This show is blessed with veteran, as well as up-and-coming, actors and actresses who together make for a strong cast. Lisa Bostnar, as Irina the actress, is all-too believable as the middle-aged woman who overcompensates for her fading beauty and at the same time is neglectful of her son because her energies are expended in maintaining her image as a desirable young starlet. And Resnick, as her son, has the air of a tortured artist whose mood shifts wildly with the passing attentions of the women in his life.

The neuroses of the characters will be familiar to today’s audiences, confirming Kaikkonen’s assertion in introducing the play that “[Chekhov] really was our contemporary.”

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