Attending a student theatrical production is something like going to a barber school for your haircut; it is not too expensive and you have the warm feeling that you are advancing the cause of education, but there are also certain risks.

The risks are diminished when the production is at Catholic University's Hartke Theatre, where the standard of direction and production are relatively high. But when the play is Chekhov's "The Seagull," as it will be through Feb. 11, the odds are stacked heavily against success. This complex tangle of symbols, nuances and half-statements (a play in which nothing much happens except that worlds are destroyed) is often spoken chamber music, requiring a cast not only skilled but accustomed to working together, finely attuned to one another's timing and style.

A substantial fraction of what Chekhov put into this play actually comes across the footlights in this production, which is better in the later acts than the earlier ones, and will probably be better near the end of the run than at the beginning.

Most promising of the young performers was Dea Guidobono as Nina, though she might profit from a bit of the understatement Paula Gruskiewicz brings to the role of Masha. Rober Lesko played solidly in the small role of the doctor, and Tom Aldridge gave a good young man's imitation of old Sorin, without much help from his makeup.

But John Phelan showed effectively only about half of the complex character of Konstantine, and Ann Crowley Jones did not convey the larger-than-life qualities of Irina. Anthony Risoli's Trigorin should have been both nastier and more charming.

The sets were very effectively designed and used.