Come and Take It, This Wonderful Production
Anton Chekhov's plays are not easy to do. They are filled with subtext, the deep, dark thoughts of the human condition, and traps that could ensnare the actor and the production in time and melancholy. Director Tony Pisculli and translator/dramaturg/actress Olga Kalashnikova successfully navigated these waters with their cast and crew to bring a refreshing and wonderful piece of theatre to close the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival in the form of The Seagull.
Pisculli and Kalashnikova crafted this production's translation on their own, forgoing the dozens of translations out there in the world. Chekhov's work is originally in Russian, requiring a translated text to do so in America, and there can be weeks of tablework done alone on whether or not a certain translation is performable or better than another. With this new Pisculli/Kalashnikova translation, the language feels a bit more accessible, a bit more organic, and definitely a bit more modern without losing the spirit of 19th century Russia.
The Seagull takes place on Sorin's (John Wat) estate, where he is hosting a visit from his actress sister Irina (Stacy Ray) and her famous playwright lover, Trigorin (Alex Monti Fox). Also there is tortured soul Masha (Stephanie Keiko Kong), who is the daughter of the managers (Ron Heller, Lala Buzzell) of Sorin's estate, Semyon (Sean-Joseph Choo), a school teacher pining for Masha, the doctor Dorn (Todd Farley), and Irina's son, Konstantin (Nick Amador), who is a blossoming playwright, writing in a symbolist style. They all come together to watch a play written by Konstantin, acted out by his lover Nina (Kalashnikova), and through this play of his (as well as its reception) we learn about the various love triangles and emotional nuances this family has.
I commend the entire cast on a job well done, as they delivered this show in spades. Each of them wielded and commanded the language very well, which one may not always find in a Chekhov (or Shakespeare, even) production because of how wordy and slice-of-life it may seem at times. The actors, fully invested in their characters, did not let the play let up for a second- the momentum and action kept moving. Ray's Irina was exceptional in the way she effortlessly squeezed emotion and meaning out of every line she had, which made her rises and falls all that much more better to watch. Konstantin's tumultuous relationships with himself, Nina, and his mother were beautifully played by Amador, and Kalashnikova's Nina also equally performed her rocky relationships with Konstantin, Trigorin, and her hunger for acting (and life, even) very well. Fox's Trigorin was very exciting to watch, as his passions blossomed the more the play went on. Kong's Masha also stood out, looking and sounding as if she were taken right out of a Tim Burton film. A brooding, tortured soul yes, but one that has a fire burning in her heart and did not just let the melancholy rule her.
My only reservation was the decision for the cast to play out to the audience. I prefer the actors to be either speaking to someone or speaking inwardly, not addressing the audience at all. A realistic take, but one I feel compliments the way Chekhov writes. Instead of taking certain lines out to the audience, I would have loved to see that energy redirected towards the scene and the players in it. This, I concede, is a personal taste. There is no excessive audience pandering, it's the opposite actually- there is a flash, a line delivered, then the actor steers back into the scene. I just wish those flashes weren't for the audience; although admittedly, some were very funny when they were delivered!
On a final note, Carlynn Wolfe's costume design was delightful. The pieces and looks were great to see and I love seeing a ton of coats onstage- it's Russia, after all! Brenda Santos' prop work was great, and I enjoyed her seagulls. Justin Fragiao's set looked much more put-together than his work done on the second 2017 HSF production, Comedy of Errors, although the middle doors couldn't close- choice or not? Finally, the lighting Cora Yamagata did with framing these actors was solid- there was a couple of moments in Act Four that actually took my breath away.
I encourage everyone to go see the closing production of this year's Hawaii Shakespeare Festival. It is a wonderful display of acting and Pisculli has led his team well. There are two shorts that are played for free an hour before the show, The Avenger and Bear. I haven't seen them yet, but I hear they're fantastic. Check it out if you can, and I will update my review if I get to see them.