Posted by: operatheaterink | March 6, 2012

Review: ‘The Seagull,’ The Antaeus Company, March 6, 2012

A Worthy Production and Ensemble With Stature!

Review: 'The Seagull,' The Antaeus Company, March 6, 2012

Bill Brochtrup, Laura Wernette, Micheal McShane, Abby Wilde

SEEN MARCH 3, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The Antaeus Company at the Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood has begun its 2012 season with Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” The company had a shakeup last summer. Its longtime artistic director, Jeanie Hackett, moved on, although she remains a member of the company. She was recently replaced by John Sloan, Rob Nagle and Bill Brochtrup, with Tony Amendola co-leading during the transition. The artistic vision and goals of the company were questioned. Now there is a team of three at the helm.

The Antaeus Company is probably the most respected classical theatre company in Los Angeles. Others include A Noise Within in Pasadena and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon. Antaeus Company members have years of experience, and their acting credentials are impeccable. Yet each company has its own personality, and some actors often travel from one to the other.

A few years ago, I saw Bo Foxworth in a production of “The Rainmaker” at A Noise Within. I thought he did a fair job, but he wasn’t broad or charismatic enough to replace Burt Lancaster’s Starbuck in the film.

However Foxworth’s performance in “The Seagull” (on March 3) was superb. He was the standout in a cast where every role and every actor could and should have matched him. Chekhov’s characters are well-developed with nuanced depth. Even the small roles leave ample space to shine.

As I was watching the first sequence of the play, I kept thinking that the actors seemed polished, yet I wondered what this classic Chekhov was lacking. The 19th-century Russian characters were beautifully costumed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. The great actress, Irína Arkádina (played by Laura Wernette), was sufficiently affected, exuberant, dramatic and egocentric, yet she was a bit over-exaggerated and loud. Her son, Konstantín Tréplev (Antonio Jaramillo), didn’t seem Russian, although he was handsome, charismatic and emotionally endowed. His Latin enunciation made me question his Russian lineage. Nína and Másha, the two young daughters of other characters, looked relatively apropos, but somehow seemed imperfect. Nína (played by Abby Wilde) was in love with the famous novelist, Trigórin (played by Foxworth), who was supposedly hooked to Arkádina but found time to attract Nína, then threw her away before returning to Arkádina. But Tréplev remained in love with Nína, who threw him away for Trigórin. And Másha (Joanna Strapp) was in love with Tréplev but married a teacher named Medvedénko (Bill Brochtrup), since she realized that Tréplev would never be hers.

This is a play of artistic pursuits, relationships and unrequited love. The actors acted up a storm, including Dawn Didawick, who played Paulína, the wife of Ilyá Shamráyev (Armin Shimerman) who managed the estate owned by Pyótr Sórin, Arkádina’s sick brother, played colorfully by Micheal McShane.

It wasn’t until Bo Foxworth uttered his first lines that I figured out what was lacking. The actors were laboriously acting. The result was loud, sometimes high-pitched voices, and forced, often overdone characterizations. The consequence was that the play didn’t have the grace, elegance and style which Chekhov so nobly deserves. The English usually excel in this area, but we Americans should be able to lend the same panache to a production as well. I tried to see what Foxworth was doing so aptly. His language was more eloquent than the others. He became the character with little visible effort. He wasn’t trying to show us that he could act. His mannerisms and movements didn’t look contrived as if presented to him by a director. He incorporated minute touches that made his character multidimensional, and his performance was therefore elegant, stylish and real.

Abby Wilde finally came into her own toward the end of the play when her Nína returned to Tréplev. Reality set in and her character became tragic, conflicted and nuanced.

There was something very earthy and refreshing about Joanna Strapp’s Másha. “I’m in mourning for my life,” she said tragically and tellingly.

Didawick added a comic touch as Paulína, creating a totally unique character that was hers. Kurtwood Smith (Dorn), Shimerman and Brochtrup were well-cast. The maid, Janice Kent, was enjoyable when moving furniture in costume during intermission. And once I became accustomed to Jaramillo as Tréplev, his charisma, energy and emotionality drew me in, especially when he was overcome with despair.

The minimal set was effective and worthy. The lighting and sound design were equally proficient in execution. Director Andrew J. Traister did a fine job of adapting the play to the space.

But the actors need to stop all the overtly observable acting and create multilayered characters in a production that exhibits more style, truth and grace. Anton Chekhov deserves no less.

Director: Andrew J. Traister
Translator: Paul Schmidt
Scenic Design: Lechetti Design
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Sound Design: Jeff Gardner
Costume Design: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Prop Design: Heather Ho
Stage Manager: Lara E. Nall
Technical Director: Red Colegrove
Production Manager: Adam Meyer
Assistant Stage Manager: Jacqueline Adorni
Photo: Karianne Flaathen

‘The Seagull’ is double cast and plays through April 15, 2012.
Box Office at 818-506-1983

Review: 'The Seagull,' The Antaeus Company, March 6, 2012

Bo Foxworth, Abby Wilde