Three Russian musicians â€“ a guitar, accordion and violin â€“ prance about the stage, filling the evening air with the raucous words of upbeat Slavic cheer that canâ€™t help but put a smile on your face, and after each tune, the applause thunders.
The three music players are joyous in their appreciation of their crowd, and the lights of the theater glitter off the smiles all around as the musicians exit stage left.
Get ready for Anton Chekhovâ€™s "The Seagull" at American Players Theatre because these three players are the only happy people you are going to see for the next two and a half hours.
In a stunning and dashing production of this classic, the cast and crew has captured every nuance â€“ humor-filled and grief-laden â€“ of this marvelous play about love unrequited, and unrequited, and unrequited and ... well, you get the point.
Director John Langs leads this cast through each individual space in his or her life, all the while ensuring that we all understand the concept of "family," no matter how disparate, dysfunctional or dispersed.
Tracy Michelle Arnold leads this pack of players with a performance so powerful and inspiring that she is both larger than life and so tiny we need to squint to see each sideways glance or flutter of a finger.
Arnold plays Irina, a glamour-addicted aging actress who flits between the urbanity of Moscow and the bucolic lakeside country estate of her brother, the rapidly aging and cantankerous Sorin (Robert Spencer).
The two are central to this gaggle of grumps, but are far from the only attention grabbers. This is Chekhov so you know that every single person on the stage demands attention.
Let me draw the love stories.
Irinaâ€™s son, Konstantin (Christopher Sheard) is a budding young playwright who is hopelessly in love with Nina (Laura Rook), a landowner's daughter who wants to be an actress or anything that will make her famous.
Nina, however, has her sights set on Trigorin (Jim DeVita), a popular writer who is temporarily the plaything of Adrina. Trigorin slowly falls under the spell of the winsome Nina.
Masha (a vodka-slamming Anne E. Thompson) is loved by Medvedenko the schoolteacher (Tim Gittings). But Masha, the daughter of the estate overseer Shamrayev (a rollicking James Pickering), loves Konstantin while his wife Polina (an always vulnerable and stoic Colleen Madden) loves not her husband but the wily doctor (the taciturn James Ridge).
The first and most striking demonstration of familial rift is between Irina and her son, as she belittles his effort at a "new form" play he has written. That distrust is an apt metaphor for the crushing inability of any of these people to actually forge some kind of unthreatened connection with another.
There is almost a cloistered mien about these characters, but you find yourself holding your breath, waiting for the eruption of deep hidden hope or frustration, anger or ridicule.
Ridge comes closest to a lynchpin upon which all these people can coordinate something resembling reality. He gives the doctor a kind of detached whimsy, eyeing each of his characters with something approaching bemused sincerity.
APT has staged a spectacular season so far, and "The Seagull" easily takes its place at the head of the class. Itâ€™s hard to imagine a company better suited to breathe such life into a dark comedy like this.
These actors have captured the big stories and moments of the play, but there is also such attention to detail that there are small moments that leave you breathless.
At the end of the first act DeVita is about to leave for Moscow when he tilts to his deepening desire for Rook. He stands in front of her, with her back to the audience. They kiss, and he takes her hands, lifting them gently to the side as she throws her head back.
She looks as if she is a symbol of a seagull in beauteous flight, which is where this entire production spends the whole evening.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published July 28, 2016
It is now official that Democrat Hillary Clinton will oppose Republican Donald Trump in the race to be the next president of the United States. We won't get a winner, however. Instead, we will end up with a president who is merely a survivor.
Published July 26, 2016
Being an Uber driver in Milwaukee is a one-of-a-kind experience that lets Dave Begel meet some of the most interesting people, residents as well as visitors to the city. Find out where Begel took guests in the latest installment of Tales of the Road.
Published July 21, 2016
So the nightmare is true and Donald Trump actually may be president. The whole thing has made Dave Begel wonder about prominent conservatives in Wisconsin and whether they will support Trump. It turns out that they are split on the nomination.
Published July 19, 2016
Summer theater in Wisconsin usually means Spring Green or Door County. But there are several summer productions that look interesting and that range from the classical to the experimental, both indoors and under the stars of Milwaukee.
Published July 14, 2016
People say that America is more divided now than ever, but it was less than a lifetime ago when this country was torn apart by the quest for civil rights and the drive to end the war in Vietnam. Those times were full of violent demonstrations.
Published July 12, 2016
The Milwaukee Rep has announced a unique training program for teenage actors in the city, as part of the company's commitment to stimulating dialogue and creating engagement opportunities revolving around social issues facing the city.
Published July 8, 2016
They looked just like any other happy couple coming out of Summerfest when I picked them up at the staging area. But once they got into the car, the tension was obvious, and eventually, it boiled over.
Published July 5, 2016
All of the arts enable us to see things, especially in ourselves, we might otherwise miss. I have an idea, and it's something that could help brand Milwaukee better than any flag, slogan or video. Let's make Milwaukee the epicenter of the world for public art.
Published June 30, 2016
Now that the OSPP has exploded in mid-air like the Big Bang fireworks, the question is where do we go from here? The plan, which many saw as the right wing continuing to try and chip away at MPS, didn't have much of a chance of working.
Published June 30, 2016
Being an Uber driver in Milwaukee is a one-of-a-kind experience that lets Dave Begel meet some interesting people, residents and visitors to the city. Everybody has a story, and Tales of the Road will highlight some of those stories.