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Russians in Love 

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You are all so upset, all of this love!" one character exclaims as the first act of Chekhov's "The Seagull" comes to a close. Indeed, love proves frustrating for nearly every character who gathers at the country estate of retired Russian civil servant Sorin (Frederick Kaufman) in this Henley Street Theatre Company production.

The snuff-addicted Masha pines for the tempestuous playwright, Konstantin, but he adores naive country girl Nina, who in turn falls for the famous novelist Trigorin, and so on. As you might expect, none of them is particularly happy about his or her misplaced or misbegotten love, and the extreme emotions of anguish and desire underscore a simple but intense plot, occasionally bubbling to the surface in dramatic bursts.

The play's series of telling scenes that encapsulate each relationship makes it perfect for Henley Street's budding ensemble. While some of the performances are not quite polished, the interactions between the characters all ring true, demonstrating an uncommon comfort level among the company's players.

The commanding Rebekah Spence portrays Irina Arkadina, an aging and self-obsessed actress who holds court at the center of the play's galaxy. While Irina is as petulant and petty as a child, Spence also conveys her honest befuddlement over how to deal with her son Konstantin (Josh Lushch). Lushch doesn't quite make the struggling playwright three-dimensional but shines in scenes with the women in Konstantin's life, his mother and the idealistic Nina (Suzanne Ankrum). Ankrum delivers an engaging performance, particularly in her nicely attenuated mental fragility at the play's end. Other cast standouts include Frank Creasy as the level-headed physician, Dr. Dorn, and the darkly beautiful Kerry McGee as the depressed and detached Masha.

Director Bob Vernon generally leads his players through this tricky material with a sure hand. Only in a couple of overwrought scenes do things get a little messy, as when Dean Knight's spot-on portrayal of the aloof Trigorin threatens to go off the rails during the writer's last-ditch effort to leave Irina. But Knight quickly reins it in. These lapses barely detract from a fine production that's serious without being dour, assured without being stuffy.

Gordon Jenkins' set is simply functional, but the costumes assembled by Chris Mueller are downright spiffy, another indication of the growing maturity of the Henley Street company. The fledgling troupe ends its rookie season with this production. While I've not seen them hit a home run, "The Seagull" is a surprisingly strong finale that bodes well for the future. S



Henley Street Theatre Company's "The Seagull" at the Pine Camp Arts and Community Center, 4901 Old Brook Road, runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 31. Tickets are $15-$20. Call 340-0115 or visit www.henleystreettheatre.org.



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