Despite a decided imbalance in the modernization of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” Emily Mann’s crisply staged “A Seagull in the Hamptons” roosts on the McCarter Theater Co.’s stage sustaining the rueful mood and texture of shallow folks wallowing in self pity — this time at a posh Long Island seaside beach front. Gone is the bleak Russian landscape of the late l9th century, but the durable echo of Chekhov’s emotions remains.
In Mann’s revised text, old Uncle Nick bemoans the fact that he is “all dressed to the nines with nowhere to go.” The line prefaces the faithful tone and texture of this update even if it gains nothing from intrusive contemporary references to a game of Scrabble, a trip to Saks Fifth Avenue, a jitney in place of a carriage, the name-dropping of Judi Dench and Meryl Streep, and a half-dozen explosive profanities.
The wistful tale of unfulfilled lives manages to survive, however, thanks to some keen ensemble playing. As Maria, the vain, fading actress Chekhov called Arkadina, Maria Tucci draws a vivid picture of a mean-spirited parent and recklessly passionate lover. But the inward grace and glow that ultimately gives the play its sweep and focus is missing.
Brian Murray renders a small jewel of a performance as disgruntled curmudgeon, Nicholas (Sorin in the original), who maintains “old people should never be born.”
Less high-strung than the role is often performed, restlessly symbolic young bird Nina is played by Morena Baccarin with a sweet balance of impressionable spirit, appealing naivete, abandoned hope and ultimate disillusionment. As the wan, neurotic Masha (now named Milly), Laura Heisler creates a dolefully bland portrait that works quite nicely.
David Andrew Macdonald misses the weary defeated elegance of writer Trigorin, dubbed Philip this time around, and his unrestrained passion for the young Nina borders on predatory. As impetuous Alex (Konstantin), Stark Sands doesn’t quite capture the complexity of the troubled romanticist and dubious playwright, despite his youthful vigor.
The role of the cynical doctor has been underwritten in this adaptation, but Larry Pine (repeating the role he played in Mike Nichols’ starry Central Park production seven years ago) finds just enough moments to convey the timeworn medic’s complete indifference.
Mann’s staging respects the small understated values of Chekhov’s soulful people, despite having recklessly transported them to a modern social setting where they appear somewhat uncomfortable. The distinctive set depicts an atmospheric sandy beach backed by a distant summer home in the dunes, and a sparsely furnished interior for the second half.