Pants-off Dance-off

    Courtesy of Manuel Rotenberg

    It may be grim, but there’s enough humor in Anton Chekhov’s dark comedy “The Seagull,” this week’s headliner at Mandell Weiss Forum, that you can leave your Prozac at home. Silly and sad, it’s perfect date fodder for a mismatched couple.

    Konstantin, a young and unappreciated playwright, is at the center of a messy love pentagon that wreaks havoc in his small lakeside community — but their amorous and ridiculous downfall is so hilarious that it’s easy to forget that things are going to pieces, distractions ranging from red Speedos to upbeat musical blowouts.

    Although sometimes jarring, these periodic song-and-instrument interruptions provide a much-appreciated escape from the play’s increasingly grim developments.

    But it’s the thought-provoking commentary on art that makes the first act so appealing. When Konstantin tries to push the boundaries of theatrical structure by removing all plot and characters, “The Seagull” tiptoes around irony, suggesting the plot-and-character-driven theater we were watching was too conventional to be considered interesting or art.

    The much shorter second act dives into a deep, dark depression. A number of years have passed, and the characters’ vibrantly colored costumes give way to grays and blacks.

    Although Konstantin and his companions have followed their dreams, nothing seems to have turned out the way they once hoped. Each has learned the hard way that you can’t just ignore an impossible love, no matter how you may try.

    As the play veers toward its dark end, the cast struggles to maintain the holiday atmosphere that once pervaded their lives, wondering what will come of their uncertain lives.

    Driven by complex personalities that are alternately proud, vain, miserable, flirtatious, discouraged, jealous, passionate and desperately in love, “Seagull” boasts neither villain nor protagonist — just a motley mix of character flaws, each relatable in its way. Dugdale successfully adapts Chekhov’s play with a zest of modern context and zinging musical talent. Stage lighting adds subtle visual context to the emotional weight of each scene, while a crafty set leaves space open for the characters to romp through to their unhappy endings.

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