Niclas Olson, founder of New Muses Theatre Company, frequently adapts classical plays for a modern audience, directs the plays and more often than not performs in them — sometimes in the lead role and sometimes as a member of an ensemble cast.
He also frequently designs sets, lighting and other technical aspects, a true Renaissance man of the theater for the 21st century. He does all of this in the current production of Anton Chekhov’s classic comedy, “The Seagull.”
“Seagull” features a quartet of central characters rounded out with an ensemble cast that is much more than background. Each is a unique individual with fully realized personality traits as written by Chekhov, who skillfully opens the human heart.
This play dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between writers and artists and between family members. Irina (Angela Parisotto) is an actress past her prime. She invites popular novelist Boris (Olson) to her husband’s lakeside estate in Russia. Irina’s brooding son, Konstantin (Joel Thomas) is a would-be playwright with ambitions to create a new form of symbolist play, “without characters,” he says at some point to Nina (Lara Dohner), a neighbor who has ambitions to become an actress and who performs in a strange play written by Konstantin and presented on a makeshift outdoor stage for the family and guests. Everyone except Dr. Dorn (Edward Medina) makes fun of the play and humiliates Konstantin. Dorn thinks the play shows evidence of genius.
Chekhov called “The Seagull” a comedy.
Olson said, “I agree with Chekhov that the play is ultimately a comedy. Although it takes a tragic turn towards the end, the bulk of the action is about a loving family spending time together enjoying one another’s company.”
I saw very little humor in this production of “Seagull.” What I saw was a penetrating drama with two strains: comparisons between two writers, Boris and Konstantin, and a conflagration of mixed-up relationships and love triangles.
I can’t help but wonder if the look into the methods and ideas of the two writers is self-analysis on the part of Chekhov. As for the various love triangles, here’s a brief summary: Masha (Jazmine Herington), the daughter of the estate’s steward, is in love with Konstantin, who is in love with Nina, but Nina falls for the writer, Boris. Paulina (Kristen Blegen Bouyer), married to Ilya, is in an affair with the doctor. These mixed-up relationships provide, perhaps, the basis for comedy, but I see them as more tragic than comedic.
As with most New Muses shows, the set is minimalist: two doors, a tattered curtain for the makeshift stage, and some benches and chairs.
The production is all about the acting, which, at least in the performances of the major characters, is excellent. Olson is believably droll in his portrayal of the somewhat aloof writer, and Dohner is marvelously expressive as the overly dramatic Nina, especially in the play within a play. In the earlier parts of the first act, I thought Thomas was straining too hard, but as the play progressed he was quite grounded in the role of Konstantin.
The story and the characters are realistic with well fleshed-out human characteristics. This is a play first performed in the final years of the 19th century that set the standard for much of what was to follow in modern theater.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 25.
Where: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. No. 10, Tacoma.