Site-specific theater, utilizing warehouses, bars and parks, has become regular fare locally. The latest, Bartlett Theater’s outdoors staging of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at an historic Durham farmhouse, succeeds on many levels, a refreshing and engaging must-see.
This 2012 modern adaptation by Anya Reiss includes cell phones, laptops and some coarse language not part of the 1896 original. But the tragi-comic story of unrequited love and abandoned dreams is still intact, Reiss’ astutely crafted dialogue reducing extra verbiage to make it sound completely natural.
Bartlett’s concept places each act at a different location: a clearing in the woods, a meadow, the farmhouse front porch and the pool house patio. Sunlight provides the only illumination, leading to lovely dusk, then to fading twilight by play’s end.
Audience members move their chairs to each location, placing them in close proximity to the actors, who enter and exit from all directions, including by bicycle and automobile. The production’s lack of theatrical artifice gives it marvelous reality, especially in the hands of its expert cast.
Adam Kampouris instills would-be playwright Konstantin with seething emotions, raging against his mother, the famous actress Arkadina, and pouring out his amorous yearnings to Nina. In Moriah Williams’ radiant portrayal, Nina is full of youth’s abandon and vulnerability, her infatuation with famous novelist Trigorin setting her up for disappointment. Jon Parker Douglas’ appealing Trigorin is firmly under the thumb of Beth Ritson’s imperious Arkadina, whose outward steeliness hides a fear of aging and love lost.
Emily Rieder’s deeply depressed Masha keeps putting off milquetoast suitor Medvedenko (a funny, ultimately moving Chris Wright) because she longs for Konstantin. Joey Infinito’s playboy doctor, Dorn, tries to thwart the attentions of Shannon Malone’s desperate Polina, married to the farm’s overbearing caretaker, Shamrayev (a boisterous David Klionsky). Jim O’Brien’s warmly characterized farm owner, Sorin, rounds out the beautifully balanced ensemble.
Director Jonathan Bohun Brady’s vibrant direction emphasizes the humorous aspects nicely while remaining sensitive to the melancholic underpinnings. The staging works well except for the final act, where the audience is placed awkwardly for optimal viewing.
Limited seating and possible weather-related cancellations mean few people will see a production that deserves the widest exposure to prove this young company’s valuable addition to Triangle theater.
What: “The Seagull” presented by Bartlett Theater
Where: 5612 Cabe Ford Road, Durham (historic farmhouse)
When: 6:30 p.m. May 27-29 (rain dates June 3-4)
Info: 919-808-2203 or bartletttheater.com