A play that’s over a hundred years old in a barn that’s even older, with the doors open so the backdrop is the setting sun against the trees. If anyone’s wondering if site-specific theater is something that works, direct them to NorthEast Theatre Ensemble’s production of The Seagull at the Mabee Farm Historic Site – they won’t have any doubts after that.
At Sorin’s (Patrick Quinn) country estate, his nephew, the aspiring writer Konstantin (Michael Sinkora), is launching his latest work for his friends and family – a play starring the young woman he loves, Nina (Shae Fitzgerald). The famous actress Arkadina (Janet Hurley Kimlicko), Sorin’s sister and Konstantin’s mother, is visiting for the summer with her younger lover, the well-known writer Trigorin (Nick Muscatiello). They mock the play and Konstantin’s mood grows dark; he becomes quite jealous of Trigorin, especially after he sees that Trigorin and Nina seem to have a connection. The play moves between lovers’ triangles, jealousy, anger, manipulation and deceit; although the setting may be idyllic, happiness is hard to come by.
Director Sandra M. Boynton has gathered a very skilled group for this production; a number of the actors were new to me and I was so captivated by their work. Kimlicko is a thrilling Arkadina; she brings out the consummate drama queen with a broken child inside and her work here is stunning, especially in her early Act Two scenes with Muscatiello and Sinkora. It would be very easy to hate Trigorin were he played by a weaker actor than Muscatiello, but the layers he gives the character make him fascinating and almost sympathetic. Sinkora’s Act One is a bit shaky, but he comes back with a roar in Act Two; his last scene with Fitzgerald and the aftermath are heartbreaking. Fitzgerald has a beautiful character arc, and she gives it such light and life; you could swear you were seeing two different people from where she starts and where she ends up, and her work here is superb. Suzanna Bornn, as Masha, the daughter of the estate’s manager, is filled with such passion; every young actress I know makes noise about playing Nina, but seeing Bornn’s performance, I can’t imagine why Masha’s not the number-one choice.
Not only is the choice of the Mabee Farm an inspired one, but the costumes (designed by someone under the pseudonym of “Idgie Threadgood” – I have an inkling who did the work, but that’s not my secret to tell), sets and props are all just lovely – perfectly timely and appropriate, casting a spell on the audience, sending us back in time to a late 19th-century country home by a lake. All of this could have been accomplished in another venue, but with the smell of fresh-cut grass in the air (and fresh air, for us city-dwellers!), the sunlight streaming through the barn and the cool of the evening beginning to make its way in, this was truly another world, and an innovative space for the theater. I can’t wait to see where the group takes us next.
“The Seagull,” NorthEast Theatre Ensemble; Mabee Farm Historic Site, 1100 Main St., Rotterdam Junction; through May 27; $20-$15; Run time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 526-9170; https://www.northeasttheatreensemble.com/