Updating classic works can add contemporary resonance. Sometimes it’s merely an overlay of modernity but Tamara Kissane’s “The New Colossus,” an adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” makes its points about artistic pursuits and unrequited love with cleverly re-conceived characters. Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s engrossing production gets high marks all around.
Chekhov’s 1896 play has 14 characters and four acts; Kissane’s has just eight characters in one 95-minute act, a tightening that allows the action to speed along, while still making time for quiet moments. There’s no need for acquaintance with the original, but those who know “The Seagull” will recognize how admirably Kissane has reworked it.
Here, the play takes place at the seashore where Sorin, a dying invalid, lives with his young nephew Konrad, a video artist. There’s also Paulina, her daughter Masha and schoolteacher Meddie, who’s in love with Masha. But she pines for Konrad, who, in turn is obsessed with neighbor Nina who wants to be an actress in the city. When Konrad’s mother, the noted actress Irina, comes to visit with her lover Trig, a best-selling novelist, Nina falls for him.
Kissane has a knack for pithy comic lines as well as dreamy, intimate exchanges, all beautifully timed under Dana Mark’s insightful direction. The actors are markedly naturalistic in their interactions, making their awkward attempts at relationships painfully familiar.
Alex Jackson’s portrayal of Konrad is intense, his arguments with his mother and his pitiful begging with Nina equally believable. J Evarts turns in a funny but frightening portrait of a domineering mother and actress, while Jaybird O’Berski’s Trig suitably alternates between sensitive and smarmy. Alice Rose Turner movingly charts Nina’s journey from shy dreamer to world-weary maturity.
Susannah Hough is a hoot as the cupcake-bearing Paulina, wanting to mother everyone but not always succeeding. Lazarus Simmons plays up Meddie’s middle class values nicely, while Mara Thomas balances Masha’s fierce independence with an underlying vulnerability. Mick Foley brings out Sorin’s regrets about an unfulfilled life.
Miyuki Su’s seaside setting, full of inflatables and beach chairs, is dominated by dozens of white, cloud-like umbrellas overhead, which catch Steve Tell’s subtle lighting changes. Nick Karner’s YouTube-like video designs for Konrad are an of-the-moment touch.
If you’ve never seen a Little Green Pig production, this is a great introduction to the company’s creativity and talent.
What: “The New Colossus,” presented by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
Where: Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham
When: 8:15 p.m. May 20 (no show on May 21), 26-28, June 2-4; 7:30 p.m. May 22
Tickets: $12-$20 (seniors/military $2 off; students $5-$10)
Info: 919-682-3343 or manbitesdogtheater.org