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Psycho Drama

Thursday 23 February 2012

Let me get this out of the way: I am not a fan of Chekhov. The few plays I’ve seen, all the characters are generally unsympathetic, miserable, and generally noxious. We’ve seen a couple at OSF in the past (Libby Appel is generally regarded as an expert on Chekhov; anyone who learns a language to read stories in the original gets well-deserved credit for determination) but generally found them depressing. But, this year I’m trying things I normally avoid, so this year’s production of Seagull made it on to our schedule.

It’s an interesting play. The first half plays as a comedy of mistaken attractions; everyone is in love with everyone else, but not with the one who loves them. It was like “Hamptons on the Volga”, with everyone chasing each other. There was clearly dramatic tension in some of the relationships, but the whole first half played a dark comedy rather than light tragedy.

The second half flipped to a much darker tone. It became clear that, after several years had passed in the fictional world while the audience was out getting drinks in the lobby, pretty much all the relationships that could have gone badly, had. As seems to be normal in Chekhov, the least sympathetic characters–the mother and the doctor in particular–seemed to be the best-off, and everyone else was suffering in direct (and possibly exponential) proportion to their likability.

Performances, as usual, were excellent. We especially liked Kate Hurster as Masha and Michael “my middle name is Anton” Hume as Sorin. Armando Duran and Kathryn Meisle as the unsympathetic doctor and mother were cruel but not totally despicable (not all the way to mass murderer, just at the cruel-to-kittens stage of nasty).

I’d like to go to just the first half when I want a comedy, or the second half when I want a tragedy. We’ll be back, at least once more. If you’re a Chekhov fan, this is probably a safe bet. If you’re not, give it a try; you might change your mind about him.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

SeagullAngus Bowmer Theatre, now through June 22nd.

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