Review: Pendragon Theatre’s “The Seagull” is Riveting

The Seagull currently plays at Pendragon Theatre
What: An adaptation by Anya Reiss of the classic Anton Chekhov play The Seagull, stays true to its origins where a successful actress gathers intellectuals and artists at her Adirondack Great Camp. The series of interwoven stories pull together a story of ill advised choices and unrequited love. 
Where: Pendragon Theatre, 15 Brandy Brook Ave, Saranac Lake, 518-891-1854,
Advanced tickets price: $30/adult, $25/senior, $15/student with ID, $20/matinee
At Door ticket price: $35/adult/senior, $25/student, $20/matinee
When: Saranac Lake on September 6 and 13 at 2pm and September 12 at 8pm as well as September 23 at 7:30 pm at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

(SARANAC LAKE) I have only seen one production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, so I was curious how Anya Reiss’ modern adaptation of this classic play would fill gaps and transition from Russian aristocracy to current times.  Pendragon Theatre's production of The Seagull is still as riveting, no matter the time or place.  Director Anne Thibault not only gracefully gestures this production into modern times, but takes it one step further and places it in an Adirondack Great Camp where the wooded isolation is preserved through Scenic Designer Tijana Bjelajac and Scenic Artist Kent Streed’s  breezy birch tree painted curtains and the eerie, pensive call of a distant loon.   

Christopher Leifheit as Trigorin and Rachel Kemp as Nina
 in The Seagull
Though place and time have changed, the timelessness of this play remains intact. Thibault pulls together a strong ensemble cast able to portray a troubled group of misfits who feed off each other throughout ill-fated affairs, rejection, madness, selfishness and eventual misery. 

This play within a play opens to a hungover Masha (Heather Martell) being nursed by the doting Medvedenko (Lucky Cerruti) who expresses frequently that the only reason Masha isn’t with him is because of his lack of money.  Martell’s Masha is bored and disinterested in Medvedenko’s advances and only shows signs of life when Konstantin is near. This small scene sets the tone for the rest of the play as each character longs for something or someone unattainable and the consequences each action has with each decision made. 

Konstantin (Miles River Willow) readies the stage for his lakeside opening of his original play. He eagerly awaits his neighbor and love Nina (Rachel Kemp) to perform and impress his actress mother. Kemp brings a heartbreaking innocence to Nina from her eager enthusiasm to the swinging of her bare feet. Nina’s rigid upbringing has her sneaking out of her house to pursue her dream of acting.
Miles River Willow as Konstantin and Christopher Leifheit
as Trigorin in The Seagull
Willow masterfully portrays Konstanin’s desperation whether he’s observing Nina’s infatuation with the visiting writer Trigorin (Christopher H. Leifheit) or when he is the subject of his mother’s wrath or indifference.

Tara Palen is brilliant as the insecure aging actress Arkadina who sheds personalities like a snake from desperate lover when rejected by a weak Trigonrin, channeling Joan Crawford’s “Mother Dearest” when ruthlessly belittling her son or with sweeping gestures as the grand dame of the stage.

Discontentment and frustration is the common thread throughout “The Seagull” and played to perfection by its many players. The audience for Konstantin’s play is his uncle Sorin, a doctor, his mother, Medvedenko, Masha and her parents. Now ill, Sorin regrets his choice of remaining a childless bachelor, forgetting his success as a judge. He never recognizes that Konstantin, the son his own sister has abandoned, is by all rights his own.

Dorn (Jordan Hornstein) is the philandering doctor who never takes Sorin’s complaints seriously. He plays with the heart of Masha’s mother Polina (Kathleen Recchia) while reflecting on the time when he could pick and dispose of women like flowers. Polina yearns for Dorn instead of her unwitting bumbling husband/property caretaker Shamrayev (Jason G. Amrhein).

Polina (Kathleein Recchia) comforts her daughter Masha
(Heather Martell) in The Seagull
Konstantin’s play is meant to reject traditional genres and has Nina flopping around on stage. (Kemp adds some much needed levity during this play within a play.)  Arkadina interrupts the performance causing Konstantin to storm off.  Later when Nina meets with Konstantin, he presents her with a dead seagull that he killed for her, representing the end of his own life.  

Leifheit’s Trigonin is stoic throughout whether taking advantage of innocence or placating Arkadina. Trigonin takes Nina and uses Konstanin’s seagull as a future story idea or does he foresee Nina’s grim future.

“…idea for a short story. The shore of a lake, a young girl who's spent her whole life beside it, a girl like you She loves the lake the way a seagull does, and she's happy and free as a seagull. Then a man comes along, sees her, and ruins her life because he has nothing better to do. Destroys her like this seagull here.

Nina (Rachel Kemp) and Konstantin (Miles River Willow)
reflect on choices in The Seagull
The time moves forward a few years and shows Konstantin still isolated at the Great Camp, but now a reclusive playwright. His mother and Trigonin are back to visit, but the only time he is drawn toward people is when the conversation turns to Nina’s rejection at the hands of Trigonin and her own parents.

Later Konstantin spies Nina at his window and welcomes her in. Kemp now wraps Nina in a cloak of sadness. (Costume Designer Kent Streed shows his strength when he transitions Nina from breezy sundress and bare feet to mismatched ensemble and heavy boots.) Kemp and Willow are a commanding force of raw emotion as Nina and Konstantin open wounds and break hearts.

Arkadina (Tara Palin) seeks to remain the center of
attention in The Seagull 
Konstantin reveals how he has followed Nina’s career from its highs to lows, throughout Trigonin’s rejection of her and the death of their child. Nina now sees herself as the seagull that Trigonin described years before on the shores of the lake. She rejects Konstantin’s love to crawl back through the window to a life unfulfilled.  

There is no happily ever after in “The Seagull.” It is a reminder of how quickly love can be lost or how life can slip away. Pendragon’s production is powerful with an amazing cast that pulls from a range of human emotions and ends as it began with uncertainty, sadness and regret. 

This is a classic performance for all older middle school students and any high school students and adult. There are only a few performances left: September 6 and 13 at 2pm, September 12 at 8pm in Saranac Lake as well as September 23 at 7:30 pm at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

Cast/Crew:
Director: Anne Thibault
Konstantin: Miles River Willow (son to Arkadina who longs for acceptance)
Irna Arkadina: Tara Palen (actress and mother to Konstantin)
Nina: Rachel Kemp (neighbor and lover to Trigonrin)
Petrusha Sorin: Mark Mainville (brother to Arkadina)
Medvedenko: Luck Cerruti (teacher and husband to Masha)
Masha: Heather Martell (daughter to Polina and Shamrayev)
Polina: Kathleen Recchia (one of Dorn’s lovers and wife to Shamrayev)
Dorn: Jordan Hornstein (Doctor and aging philanderer)
Shamrayev: Jason g. Amrhein (Caretaker, husband to Polina and father to Masha)
Boris Trigonrin: Christopher H. Leifheit (writer)
Light Design: Bonnie B. Brewer
Stage Manager: Peggy Orman
Set Design: Tijana Bjelajac
Costume Design/Scenic Artist – Kent Streed

© Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities™ guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time™guidebooks have easy Adirondack family hikes, Adirondack swimming holes, Lake Placid Olympic activities, Adirondack trivia, Adirondack horseback rides, Adirondack snowshoe family trails and more. Look for the Adirondack family guidebook online or bookstores/museums/sporting good stores. Diane is currently working on the next Adirondack Family Activities™ guide.

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