Brenda Withers could have gone the glam route, like her Matt & Ben co-author Mindy Kaling (Office veteran and star of a namesake sitcom). Instead she hunkered down on Cape Cod, banding together with five dedicated, like-minded actors to found Harbor Stage Company, an artist-run collective housed in a fishing shack-turned-black box. For their latest production, co-founder/adaptor/director Robert Kropf has streamlined Chekhov’s The Seagull into a vertiginous emotional roller coaster. In focusing solely on the flash points and jettisoning extraneous characters, Kropf has created a heady joyride. Never have the boring routines of a summerhouse sojourn been depicted so excitingly.
Withers plays Irina Arkadina, a celebrated stage star who is perplexed, and ultimately challenged, by the theatrical aspirations of her son Konstantine (Alex Pollock). The turgid post-apocalyptic script that Konstantine has his beloved Nina (Amanda Collins) perform for the house party – including superstar writer Trigorin (Jonathan Fielding), Arkadina’s latest lover – is truly abominable – a holy mess. Nina, enshrouded in a red scarf, performs the portentous prologue writhing on the floor – where at the outset of this condensation we saw morose Masha (sad-eyed Stacy Fischer), pining for Konstantine, memorably pronounce herself “in mourning for my life.”
With so many romantic tendrils to untangle, few moments are wasted philosophizing over cups of tea. Withers’ Arkadina is especially volatile, achieving a near orgasmic state of fury over “the bloody boredom of it all!” Dithering whether to decamp for Moscow, she’s whipped into action by Trigorin’s growing attraction to Nina – that “nothing.” And the scene in which Arkadina tries to restake her claim to him is heartrending – if not entirely effective – as those familiar with this oft-produced play are bound to anticipate. With his deft adaptation, and so splendid an actor as Withers to embody his vision, Kropf has rendered the conflict fresh and new yet timeless.
Cavils aside, this is definitely a worthy venture – and a steal, at only $20 a ticket. Affordability is part of Harbor Stage Company’s mission statement, and superior quality a happy by-product.