We Yankees like our plays to have happy endings. This is what makes The Seagull so disappointing to American audiences. Konstantin and Nina, mediocre playwright and mediocre actress, would seem the perfect match. But her ambition attaches her to a slumming writer of bestsellers. Two years later, they are reunited. Konstantin now has terminal writers' block and Nina has suffered the fate of all groupies, but neither is any the wiser for their trials and thus part company again, this time forever.
But what if that final confrontation had taken a different turn? What if the whole relationship had been based in honest assessment of one another's strengths and weaknesses? Chekhov's play being no longer protected under copyright law, Steven Dietz has taken this passage from the play and dissected it--line by line, sometimes word by word--speculating on the decisions inherent in each moment of each transaction.
In one of his 42 hypothetical scenes, Nina tells Konstantin frankly that his writing is uninspired. In another, she expresses envy for his occupation's solitude. In a third, he spins a creepy fantasy of eating the seagull to which she has compared herself. At other times, the two of them analyze their own dialogue for its subtext, engage in Method-style acting exercises, or trade places all too enthusiastically.
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The Nina Variations recalls Jeffrey Jones' Seventy Scenes Of Halloween in that both authors sometimes surrender to self-indulgent cutesiness in their attempts to stretch their material to feature length ( some scenes consist solely of tableaux, or a single phrase, and in Scene Number 13, Konstantin and Nina argue over that number's superstitious significance ) . And such obsessively microscopic inspections of one male-female dynamic cannot help but raise suspicions as to the state of the authors' own marital unions.
But under the guidance of Terrapin Theatre director Brad Nelson Winters, this hour-long project also includes quintessentially Chekhovian moments of fragile beauty juxtaposed with absurdity just awkward enough to be believable ( a romantic reconciliation involving candles and pyrophobia, for example ) . Scott Letscher and Franette Liebow skip, dodge and hurdle through Dietz' obstacle course of a script with energy and alacrity, making for a diverting hour of second chances for one of Russian literature's most unlucky couples.