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 Jan. 27, 2015
Gary Andersen, who, surprisingly, left the University of Wisconsin for Oregon State, complained that the high academic standards in Madison made it too hard for him to recruit the kind of players he wanted.
Published Jan. 25, 2015
Nothing entertains like a great love story with a murderous ending, and that's what you get in "The Kreutzer Sonata" at Renaissance Theaterworks. The one man play starring James Pickering is a story you won't soon forget.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
The Milwaukee Rep opened "Good People" Friday night and gives it a spectacular production, looking at where we come from, where we go and how we either get there or don't.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sources have confirmed that Gov. Scott Walker has decided to include the "jock tax" revenues in his budget to help fund the new arena in downtown Milwaukee.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Cyndi Przybylski is a software engineer at Rockwell, but she has been bitten by the theater bug. She is taking a scientific approach to it all, realizing that she has a lot to learn and seems ready to learn it.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sam Shepard's "True West" is a tale of brothers, joined by blood and driven apart by everything else in their lives. Alchemist Theater gives it a daring and bold production until the end of the month.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
Capt. Dave Salazar of the Milwaukee Police Department supervises the intelligence gathering efforts to try and keep terrorist activities at bay. It's a job that requires lots of cooperation from various agencies, and from the general public.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
Finding the right words for what happened to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday is a challenging task, and I was struggling with it. Enter Brent Hazelton, the Associate Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Rep. He had a Facebook post that captures just about everything I was feeling. I am pleased to share it with you here.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
"The Beautiful Music All Around Us" is a long and involved journey through the early days of American folk music. The problem is that the whole thing, with Stephen Wade as the professor, seems more like a college lecture than a night of theatrical entertainment.
Published Jan. 18, 2015
Life for the new kid in a high school can be tough especially if that kid is a little bit unlike the other kids in school. Stargirl is clearly different, but she stays true to herself and find unlikely truths in her new classmates in the First Stage production.