There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to the Matrix Theatre Company's policy of double-casting its productions, and its new staging of "The Seagull" provides evidence of both.

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to the Matrix Theatre Company’s policy of double-casting its productions, and its new staging of “The Seagull” provides evidence of both.

An impressive ensemble of actors, many of them well-known for their film and TV work, has been assembled. There is no A or B cast; the lineup shifts from night to night. One assumes the flexibility this set-up provides helped attract this group of actors.

However, this does not give the actors an opportunity to rehearse, and bond, as an ensemble. That was, at times, painfully clear on opening night.

Case in point is the first scene of Act 3, a dialogue between the writer Trigorin (Cotter Smith) and the unhappy country girl Masha (Sharon Lawrence). Smith was quietly naturalistic and superbly subtle; Lawrence shouted most of her lines, seemingly playing to the nonexistent rafters of the 99-seat theater.

Watching them, one could only wonder how director Milton Katselas (who is also an acting teacher) could allow two such different styles of acting on stage simultaneously.

Smith’s approach, of course, was far more true to Chekhov, and his understated performance was the highlight of the evening. Equally good was Barbara Babcock, who underplayed the role of the flamboyant, self-centered actress Arkadina (and made her far more sympathetic than usual).

Alastair Duncan brought a nice earthiness to the role of Konstantin, Arkadina’s son. George DiCenzo was amusingly boisterous as the harried overseer of the country estate where the action takes place.

Lawrence, however, was not the only actor guilty of underlining each emotion. A furiously gesturing Robin Gammell and a self-consciously nerdy Gregory Cooke turned their characters into caricatures.

Katselas shapes each scene nicely, and the final act is effective. Overall, however, the production feels too much like an acting-class exercise to touch the heart deeply.

The company performs against the backdrop of a bare brick wall. Each scene utilizes only a few pieces of furniture — a reasonable design choice that, unfortunately, places still more of a burden on the uneven cast.

Todd Roehrman’s attractive costumes nicely help define the characters.

The Seagull

Matrix Theatre, West Hollywood; 99 seats; $19 top

Production

The Matrix Theatre Company presents a play in four acts by Anton Chekhov, translated by Jean-Claude Van Itallie. Producer, Joseph Stern; associate producer, Matthew Lieberman; director, Milton Katselas.

Creative

Sets, Michael Devine; lighting, Doc Ballard; costumes, Todd Roehrman; music, J.A.C. Redford; sound design, Jon Gottlieb. Opened, reviewed Oct. 29, 1994; runs through Dec. 18.

Cast

Cast reviewed:
Arkadina - Barbara Babcock
Konstantin - Alastair Duncan
Sorin - Robin Gammell
Nina - Anna Gunn
Shamraev - George DiCenzo
Pauline - Joyce Van Patten
Masha - Sharon Lawrence
Medvedenko - Gregory Cooke
Trigorin - Cotter Smith
Dr. Dorn - Lawrence Pressman
Yakov - Scott Mosenson
Maid - Astranada Giordano
Cook - John McKay

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