`The Seagull' Fails to Soar at National Actors Theatre

THE SEAGULL Drama by Anton Chekhov. Translated by David French. Directed by Marshall W. Mason. At the National Actors Theatre.

IT would be hard to blame Tony Randall for being a little bit discouraged. His dream project, the National Actors Theatre (NAT), finished its first season last spring with the badly received "Master Builder," and it has now begun its new season with a production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" that has had the critics falling over themselves to come up with new epithets.

What these productions illustrate is the lack of classical training in this country as opposed to England. Although there are many fine actors onstage in "The Sea-gull," as there have been in the previous NAT offerings, there is no unity of style, nor even a certain standard of quality.

Perhaps Mr. Randall is torn by conflicting artistic and commercial impulses.

For instance, film star Ethan Hawke ("Dead Poet's Society," "White Fang,") plays Konstantin, and while the handsome young actor is sure to bring in the teenage girls (many of whom shouted loudly at the performance I attended), he is out of his depth in this part.

The key roles of Madame Arkadina and Trigorin are essayed by Tyne Daly and Jon Voight, box-office names to be sure, but here they flounder. Arkadina is supposed to be vain and flamboyant, but there seems little difference between Ms. Daly's performance and her Mama Rose in "Gypsy."

Mr. Voight, although a welcome and dignified presence onstage, disastrously underplays his part, perhaps because he is used to screen acting; he is supposed to be playing a compulsive and tormented writer, but when he whips out his pen and paper he seems to be preparing a shopping list.

There is also an unevenness to the supporting players. Laura Linney, who has been impressive in a number of previous stage appearances, is disappointing as Nina. On the other hand, Tony Roberts, not an actor who springs to mind when one thinks of Chekhov, is surprisingly effective as Dr. Dorn. Maryann Plunkett, (a NAT regular) and Joan MacIntosh give solid performances in supporting roles.

Director Marshall Mason, who has already directed "The Destiny of Me" and "Solitary Confinement" so far this season, has failed to give this production the tone and consistency it needs - this is probably due to lack of suitable rehearsal time as much as anything else.

And yet, this is not as bad a "Seagull" as the reviews would have you believe. It is a simple, straightforward production of a play that is difficult to put across effectively under the best of circumstances. While it never hits the heights, it also never betrays the essential spirit or intent of the play, which is not something that can be said for the many modernist productions of classics that are being done these days.

The National Actors Theatre has so far proven to be a disappointment, and it has a long way to go to fulfill its self-proclaimed mandate. But considering the benefits to be achieved by its success, it should be encouraged as much as possible.

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