Anton Chekhov's famous play The Seagull always lures producers, directors and actors. But its complexities remain a major challenge, especially because some audiences find anything by Chekhov to be turgid and long-winded.
Now a small company recently transplanted from Chicago, Wooden Rocket, tries to interpret the introspective, melancholy characters and make them interesting, meaningful and sympathetic. There should be some point in evoking the darkness of the Russian soul, the lost hopes smothered in polite, conventional conversation, the acclaimed subtexts. Such people could even be amusing and laughable; after all, Chekhov called this "a comedy."
Chief among the 12 characters are: the celebrated, no-longer-young actress Irina Arkadina; her playwright son Konstantin Treplyov; popular novelist Boris Trigorin; and Nina Zarechnaya, daughter of a rich landowner near a country estate owned by Irina's brother. Konstantin loves Nina, but Nina is smitten with Boris, with whom Irina is carrying on an affair.
Director Kelly Colleen McMahon has managed to keep the pace lively and to get her actors to give some semblance of real people. But neither director nor performers do much with the play's subtle depth, going nowhere insightful or original, and creating something generic rather than specific.
Don DiGiulio delivers Boris' lines with considerable sincerity, capably suggesting a man who doesn't know what he's doing with his life, even if he hurts someone in the process. And Corey Reiger gives Konstantin a convincing sense of bewildered unhappiness. Ken Lutz, in the smaller role of Dr. Dorn, also conveys real substance.
But Diana Ifft's version of Irina lacks bearing and definition. Laura Lee Brautigam's Nina, meanwhile, comes across mostly as a whiny kid, Brautigam losing herself in emotion instead of emulating other cast members in the basics of delivering the text.
Reiger and Christopher Pelletier are the producers. They're evidently responsible for the imaginative use of Russian landscape paintings as part of the set.
And responsible for the program book, too? Anyone in the audience who doesn't know The Seagull might struggle to identify characters who are referred to by multiple names in the dialogue, but are listed in the program by only one name each (i.e., "Konstantin" for "Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplyov"). Unlike the script, the program defines no one sufficiently, especially not the relationships between characters. Neither are settings of time and place noted. Moreover, on opening night, the women's costumes looked tackily thrown together. This adds up to a sense of a company not ready for this celebrated work.
The Seagull continues through June 20. Wooden Rocket at Pittsburgh Playwrights, 542 Penn Ave. , Downtown. 412-394-3353 or www.pghplaywrights.com