There’s a lot of lovin’ going on in Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at Detroit’s Hilberry Theatre. Struggling writer Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov loves aspiring actress Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya, but she has eyes for only popular novelist Boris Alekseevich Trigorin – but he’s involved in a scandalous relationship with Konstantin’s mother, Irina Nikolaevna Arkadina, an older, but celebrated actress who’s in love with herself and her position in society. Then there’s Semyon Semyonovich Medvedenko, a teacher from the lower classes who pursues Masha, the daughter of Ilya Afanasevich Shamraev, the manager of the posh country estate of retired government attorney Pyotor Nivolaevich Sorin (Irina’s brother) – but Masha prefers Konstantin. (And we already know where HIS attentions are focused.)
So while it might seem that a scorecard is needed to keep track of the lovelorn and their exploits, Chekhov’s tale – first staged in Russia in 1896 – isn’t so much about their interpersonal relationships as it is the existential crises they face.
As such, there are no heroes or villains. Rather, this is Chekhov’s successful attempt in the 1890s to shatter long-established playwriting conventions by portraying a “slice-of-life” on stage, filled with confluent moments instead of dramatic, plot-driving conflicts. The result is an exploration of art and artists, desires and regrets that – just like in the real world – has no tidy ending.
The story translates fairly well onto the Hilberry stage. An impressive set by Jeffrey Strange doubles as both the interior and exterior of Sorin’s estate with only minor adjustments. Tim Sutton splashes it with mood-enhancing hues, while John D. Woodland dresses the characters in costumes that befit the economic standings of the characters.
Under director James Thomas’ watchful eye – and, for some of them, with training this past summer at the Moscow Art Theatre School – the cast on opening night seemed to have great fun with the many nuances of their characters.
The strongest and most consistent performance belongs to Jason Cabral, whose heart-wrenching portrayal of Konstantin – from eager-to-please son and suitor to despondent author – is a fine example of character development.
Christina Flynn is his equal, giving the sullen, black-clad Masha a modern, almost Goth-like interpretation. (Her wry line delivery is perfect.)
As Nina, however, Carollette Phillips seemed ill at ease opening night delivering some of her lines, which occasionally sounded like scripted dialogue rather than a natural conversation. But her facial expressions and body language conveyed what the words sometimes did not.
Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Plays in rotating repertory through Feb. 11. $25-$30. 313-577-2972. http://www.wsushows.com