Austin Shakespeare takes on a different type of classic: a moody story of art and love from Chekhov

As the city’s premiere classical repertory theater company, Austin Shakespeare is no stranger to presenting time-tested texts to contemporary audiences. But this season they’re expanding into what is, for them, new territory — Chekhov.

Contributed by Errich Petersen

“The Seagull” playing through Feb. 25 in the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, is Austin Shakespeare’s first foray into the work of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, one of the fathers of theatrical realism. Though Chekhov only produced four major plays, all of those have become classics of the stage. The first of these was “The Seagull,” an ensemble drama that explores the relationships of four artists and the people around them on a country estate.

Director Ann Ciccolella’s own adaptation of Chekhov’s text emphasizes the subtle shades of the playwright’s characterizations and dialogue, bristling with subtext and nuance. Amid the various declarations of love and passion, character motivations are couched in lyrical metaphors that call for the performers to express volumes with a single word or longing glance. As the cast of “The Seagull” is well up to this task, Ciccolella is right to have placed her faith in them.

Andrew Matthews, as the symbolist writer Konstantin, is a tangle of neuroses that can be both comedic and tragic, with Matthews sometimes hitting both notes simultaneously. As his mother, the actress Irina, Tyler Layton is viciously cunning and brutally honest in her appraisals, yet still manages to underlay it all with a shade of maternal concern. Her lover, the acclaimed writer Trigorin, is played with an initially reserved specificity by Matthew Radford Davies, which allows him to showcase Trigorin’s monstrous selfishness as the plot unravels. Finally, Corrina Browning is heartbreaking as Nina, a young, aspiring actress whose affections move from Konstantin to Trigorin with tragic repercussions for all involved.

The rest of the large cast is equally as adept in exploring their troubled, complex characters, particularly Helen Merino as the mournful servant, Masha, and Chuck Winkler as the wistful doctor, Dorn.

Ciccolella, along with her cast and design team, highlight the moodiness as well as the poetry of Chekhov’s text. Fittingly, a bright, constructed moon shines above the proceedings to emphasize the timelessness of the emotional interplay between art and love in these all too human relationships. If the company’s first exploration of Chekhov is any indication, Austin Shakespeare will find great success in mining yet another rich vein of theatrical history in the coming years.

“THE SEAGULL”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Cost: $18-$35
Information: 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org

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