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The Brattle Theater Company presented the second play of this (its first) winter season, last Wednesday night. It was Chekhov's "The Sea Gull," and appearing with the resident company was the celebrated Viennese actress, Luise Rainer. Chekhov, Miss Rainer, and the Brattle players have never been seen to better advantage by this reviewer. The Brattle Hall group, which in the past few years has done so much to raise the level of drama locally, deserves most special praise for introducing and re-introducing both Chekhov and Miss Rainer to this generation of theatergoers.
Anton Chekhov chose to call this play a comedy, and we must accept his word for that, even though the tragic fate of the two young lovers does not comply with the conventional comedy ending. Perhaps the comic element in "The Sea Gull" lies in the irony of the young writer's rejection by his mother, his sweetheart, and his public; all three of whom take to their hearts an older writer the young regards as a hack. "The world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to these who feel," is Herace Walpole's useful reminder.
Luise Rainer, who can be remembered for her portrayal of Anna Held in the motion-picture "The Great Ziegfeld," among other outstanding roles, is still no better decribed than by the adjective "captivating." During her longer speeches Wednesday night, particularly the lyrical but incomprehensible 'play-scene' in Act I, Miss Rainer held her audience spellbound by the sheer radiance she brought to the role. During this speech, she made fewer movements than a Madonna, but at other times she did things that no American-trained actress could possibly do and get away with--the mercurial changes of mood, the intense, doc-like stare at the actor speaking, certain extravagant gestures about the face--to name a few. I shouldn't care to see a stage filled with Luise Rainers, all going at once; it would be overwhelming. But the one we have with us now is most welcome and, I repeat, nothing less than captivating.
Chekhov is ideal material for a repertory group because so many of the smaller parts can prove to be gems when given the attention of first-class actors. In the present production, Peter Temple as the schoolmaster, Semyon, Donald Stevens as Sorin, and Jeanne Tufts as Polina are cases in point. Bryant Haliday as Konstantin, shows much improvement over his past tendency toward staginess and oratory and gives his best performance to date. Jan Farrand is ill-cast as the faded actress, Madame Arkadina. Despite all the trickery of the theater, Miss Farrand cannot look faded. And as the physical appearance of the actress playing the role is unusually important, Miss Farrand tries to compensate for her 'shortcoming' by working doubly hard to convey the pathetic shallowness of the character. The shallowness she achieves easily enough, but the pathetic, or fatuous quality, is missing in her highflown acting.
The director of "The Sea Gull" is Albert Marre, and to him must go credit for the even flow and tempo of the production. Mr. Marre also does a creditable job of acting in the role of Trigorin. Robert O'Hearn's sets are excellent.
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