By the end of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, Konstantine Treplev has become a moderately successful writer while Nina has seen her dreams of being a great actor fade into a mediocre reality. It has been two years since they have seen each other, and, in the play's climactic scene, the reunion between them becomes a riptide of emotions—a yearning for lost youth, despair at lost dreams, heartbreak over lost love—all of which leads to a final desperate act. Playwright Steven Dietz writes in his author's notes that, after being approached about writing a new adaptation of The Seagull and immersing himself in it, he could not focus on the play as a whole. Instead he found himself "mesmerized by the magnitude of this single, fateful encounter." And so he wrote The Nina Variations, an imaginative 75-minute excursion though 43 witty, passionate, and intriguing alternatives to Treplev and Nina's final encounter.
Dietz places no limitations on casting, so director Hope Alexander challenges the usual "two young actors" take on the piece by making Treplev (Alan Altshuld) middle-aged, world-weary, and frustrated, while breaking Nina into three versions of herself: Nina A (Khamara Pettus) is young and naïve, Nina B (Maria Kress) is a bit older and wiser, and Nina C (Bobbi Stamm) is more experienced and mature. The concept works rather well and is further supported by Alexander's white-on-white set, the stage strewn with crumpled pages and the upstage wall hung with huge wrinkled sheets of paper. But, although Alexander's actors competently manage the twists and turns of Dietz's variations, they never quite rise to the remarkable height of his writing.
Even those unfamiliar with The Seagull will be able to enjoy the show—and a synopsis appears in the program—but those who know the play will understand and appreciate more of the clever inside references to Chekhov's work, such as the loves-me, loves-me-not flower-picking now imposed on Nina, the three candles and the number 13 feared by Treplev's superstitious mother, and of course Nina's famous, distraught "I am a seagull" speech.
"The Nina Variations," presented by the Company Rep at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Playhouse, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm. Jan. 21-Feb. 19. $15-22.50. (866) 811-4111.