Tamara Kissane’s play The New Colossus opened on May 19th at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham as part of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s 2016 season. Directed by Dana Marks, an internationally known performer and director, the play was adapted from Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play The Seagull.
Chekhov’s first production of The Seagull was disastrous, with the performers and writer devastated by the audience’s reaction. Kissane’s play wasn’t booed, but it certainly missed the mark in several ways, yet was saved by struggling actors who somehow made sense out of the nonsensical.
First performed in St. Petersburg in 1896, The Seagull tells the story of a dysfunctional group of adults who share both familial and romantic connections that spark complications which come to light when the group meets at a country estate owned by the elder statesman of the group, Sorin (played by Mick Foley (a local director and actor who valiantly portrays the ailing Sorin with a sense of humor and strong voice). In Kissane’s version of the story, the country estate becomes a seaside escape, complete with blowup floats and seagulls invading the stage.
The beginning scene nails the setting itself but has little focus until a pair of minor celebrities who have become lovers, Irina and Trig (played with appropriate sexuality by J Evarts and Jaybird O’Berski), arrive and sit on the sidelines making rude and humorously vulgar comments about the scene in front of them. Though their characters are well-played, their comedic timing is excellent, and over-the-top sexuality underlines their relationship, the scene itself seems to go on for far too long without much point.
This play has its issues, that is true; and one of them is the hour-and-a-half length with no intermission. There were many places in the production where the action could have been stopped and the audience given a short break. A play that throws complicated plotlines that must be digested should offer at least five minutes to an audience sitting on hard chairs. Perhaps that break would also provide a respite for the plot itself that should slow down if it is to maintain the gravitas of being the adaptation of a classic.
One of the issues this play does not have, however, is a lack of talented actors. Each of the performers in this show embodied his/her character. Irina’s son, the playwright Konrad (magnificently acted by Alex Jackson, a Durham native debuting at the Little Green Pig), is presented to the audience in his physical persona, onstage and interacting with the other characters, as well as in a metaphorically distanced manner as the photographer/videographer who interviews the other members of this dysfunctional group, and thirdly, as the “tortured artist, K-Red.” Jackson handles the multidimensional character with an intensity that makes him a compassionate character whose distressing life sends him into a depression that ultimately kills him.
On a different level, Alice Rose Turner’s interpretation of Nina, who has fawned over the pulp novelist Trig through the years, depicts the character’s growth. Turner is adept at handling a character who seems to be an airhead teenager at the beginning of the play. But she becomes a seasoned female who’s had her heart broken but is determined to go on during the last act. One can feel her confusion and desperation when she and Konrad/Jackson have their last dialogue before they part.
If Konrad harbors an unrequited love for Nina, it is Masha (played by Mara Thomas, another Durham native, actor, musician, and stage manager) who has loved Konrad, even though she married Meddie (performed by Lazarus Simmons, an actor with credits throughout the Triangle) and has a baby by him. When one examines the structure of the play, it is truly Masha who starts the domino effect by proclaiming her secret love for Konrad in the first act. After that point, the threads of those relationships and non-relationships drive the tension and create the platform for the climax.
And, finally, the J Evarts and Jaybird O’Berski characters. Evarts is perfect for the role of the sex-starved, almost-over-the-hill, impressed-with-her-own-fame Irina. When she dances for her lover, the Hunter S. Thompson-tacky paperback writer, Trig, she dons a sense of penetrable self-confidence, almost embarrassed to be doing her near-striptease, but determined to do the best, sexiest dance she can possibly do, because that’s the version of herself she wants the public to believe. That type of acting takes skill, and Evarts has it.
With a bit more finesse and some reining in, particularly of the length of the first scene, The New Colossus may improve its impact. Tamara Kissane has something with the blend of a “different eye” by adding the videos to the play’s format; but, perhaps, that portion of the play is a bit too ambitious. It feels like the strength of the show is its actors, so why not simply let Chekhov’s story and the brilliant personalities that he created thrive in a more slimmed-down version than this 21st century retelling of Chekhov’s 19th century story?
SECOND OPINION: May 21st Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: https://thefivepointsstar.com/2016/05/21/colossal-colussus/; May 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/music-news-reviews/article78925597.html; and May 18th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-new-colossus/Event?oid=5029162.
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents THE NEW COLOSSUS, written by Tamara Kissane and directed by Dana Marks at 7:30 p.m. May 22 and 8:15 p.m. May 26-28 and June 2-4 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, presented as part of Manbites Dog’s “Other Voices” series.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $20 Friday-Sunday, except $5 weeknights and $10 weekends for for students with ID and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Nick Karner): https://vimeo.com/163196277.
MDT BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
NOTE: Thursday, May 26th, is Red Nose Day. Tickets sold at the door will be half-price — just $6 apiece — for anyone attending who is wearing a red nose.
Tamara Kissane (Durham playwright): https://tamarakissane.com/ (official website), http://littlegreenpig.com/tamara-kissane.html (Little Green Pig bio), and https://www.facebook.com/tamara.kissane (Facebook page).
Dana Marks (Durham director and managing director of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern): http://littlegreenpig.com/dana-marks.html (Little Green Pig bio) and https://www.facebook.com/dana.marks.5 (Facebook page).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.