The seagull that soars on the curtain of the Moscow Art Theatre as its emblem dates back to the company's first great success just before the turn of the century.
That was Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull," a play that broke ground for modern realism in the theater and brought together the talents of Chekhov the playwright and Stanislavsky the actor-teacher.
The Studio Theatre has chosen "The Seagull" as the third production in its 1980-81 "season of styles" to follow an earlier Greek tragedy and a commedia dell'arte farce. Under Joy Zinoman's direction, it is a production that is respectful of a classic's integrity while reaching out to a modern audience.
Zinoman does not try to come up with a contemporary "reinterpretation" of Chekhov's play. What the Studio offers is a production that is handsomely staged and, despite some rough spots, acted with intelligence and feeling by an ensemble cast.
In "The Seagull," Chekhov was writing about people that he knew well -- writers, authors, gentry -- on an estate outside Moscow. But he is commenting on the estrangement and loneliness of the human condition, which became a central theme of his short stories and plays. It is not an unrelieved picture of gloom, for Chekhov saw humor in life and believed man has the responsibility to persist.
Among the principal characters are Irina, a popular, middle-aging actress; Konstantin Treplyov, her son; Trigorin, her younger lover and a successful writer; and Nina, the naive young daughter of a neighboring landowner.
As the young Treplyov, Richard Hart is terribly earnest and touchingly awkward and ridiculous in pursuit of new forms to express himself as a writer. There may be too much of the enfant terrible in the early scenes, but that is quibbling. As Nina, Kate Van Burek is fetchingly ingenuous at first and rises to the challenge of the later Nina, who has been abandoned by her lover and, like a seagull, returns to the lake where life once was simple and happy and full of dreams of fame on the stage.
There are good performances from Robin Deck as the flamboyant Irina; Joseph Scolaro as the philosophical Sorin; Paul McCarren as the novelist; Morris J. Chalick as the doctor who is satisfied with a comfortable life without emotional attachment; and Timothy Rice as the hearty, bluff estate manager. Nancy Robinette has a marvelously hilarious scene as the tipsy Marsa, and Jim Nugent's affected mannerisms are just right for the prissy schoolmaster.
Russel Metheny's sets are handsome and ingeniously flexible. The production also is adorned by the rich and colorful costumes and period properties and hairstyles. The credit goes to Peter Zakutansky and Jane Phelan, costuming; Rosemary Brandenburg, properties; and Joseph Huffstickler, hairstyles.
"The Seagull" runs through March 29 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. There also are Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The Studio Theatre is at 1401 Church St. NW.