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 May 4, 2017
There are many people in Milwaukee who lead very public lives. One of them, surely, is David Stearns, the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. We sat down with him to see what makes him tick.
Published May 2, 2017
With a May 8 deadline looming, the war of words over a proposed strip club Downtown is escalating. A coalition of powerful business interests remain opposed, with the mayor and members of the Common Council on the other side, using Minneapolis as an example.
Published April 30, 2017
Let us all agree about what Junie B. Jones is not. She is not a crook. She is not a nutball. She is not in love with Handsome Warren. What she is, though, is the center of a wonderfully funny story, "Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook."
Published April 29, 2017
Theater can make you feel a lot of things, most of them wondrous, but on rare occasion it can make me feel like a dummy. And that's what I felt like after seeing "Jane Eyre," the final show of the season at The Rep, which opened Friday night.
Published April 27, 2017
It's impossible to stop thinking about the production of "Carnival" currently being staged at In Tandem Theatre, which I reviewed on opening night last week and is a fascinating example of what can happen when you stretch yourself and dream big dreams.
Published April 25, 2017
Start with a girl, beautiful and rich. Then add in her uncle and guardian who wants to marry her so he can get the money and toss in a high-born stranger who also wants the girl's hand in marriage. What you have is Florentine's "Barber of Seville."
Published April 22, 2017
For 15 years, under the guidance of art therapist Lori Vance, ExYoMKE has gone one-on-one with some of the most disaffected children in Milwaukee, children of all races and genders, and tried to help them see the world through the eyes of an artist.
Published April 22, 2017
One of the most wonderful evenings at a theater is when the show starts on a high note and just keeps getting better and better until you get to an ending where your heart is lying on the floor and your eyes are clouded with tears. That's "Carnival."
Published April 21, 2017
"The Fantasticks" is a simple little musical, the longest running in history, about a boy and a girl and being in love. The problem in the Off the Wall Theatre production is that the boy can't hold up his end of the deal, and the whole production suffers.
Published April 20, 2017
When I'm moved, I write, and fortunately, with OnMilwaukee, I have a place for that writing. The series of Uber tales from the road have run intermittently, but this story, more than anything else, proved that words and social media have the power to spark action, to make a real difference.