Theater Focus: Notebook of Trigorin

From Mar. 4 – 7, The Notebook of Trigorin played on the Main Stage of Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre. Written by Tennessee Williams in 1981, the play is a free adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. Focusing on the two male principles, Trigorin and Constantine, Williams interpreted Chekhov’s work as a philosophical exploration of his own writing career. However, the Theatre Department chose to reflect the scenery and atmosphere of the original 1890s Russian setting. Directed by Professor Betty Bernhard, the production emphasized the dream-like quality of Williams’s vision. But, as Professor Bernhard explained in the playbill, she also hoped to capture the “human contradictions” and “vulnerability” that allow audiences to feel for the performers in this “compassionate, non-judgmental play.”

The play begins on a summer evening at Sorin’s (Rachit Khaitan CM ’13) lakeside estate. His nephew, young Constantine (Gabriel Pena PO ’11), is about to premiere a play in “new forms.” The play will star Constantine’s elusive love interest Nina (Emily Grace Cole SC ’13), who, despite his efforts, still sees him as a brother. Unfortunately, the play is a flop and Constantine is left heartbroken and ashamed before his mother Arkadina (Maggie Dickman SC’ 12) and her Trigorin (Benjamin Bell, University of Kwazula-Natal), a successful writer. The young man’s pain is paralleled by Trigorin’s ecstasy in discovering the charms of an innocent Nina. A twisted love affair ensues between the disillusioned older artist and his nave acquaintance. The illicit relationship leaves Constantine’s love unrequited and Arkadina hopelessly betrayed. Misfortune and death lie in store for the unwitting characters. The tragedy of Trgorn is one of age corrupting youth. The established elders of the play stymie healthy growth in the rising generation by selfishly pursuing their own desires.

Illuminated by powerful performances, the production captured the melancholy circumstances of the play, while enlivening the stage with energy and humor. It was most impressive to see a group of 18- to 20-year-olds tackling issues that dealt so closely with age and the passage of time. To accomplish this feat, the performers had to stray from their own experience and draw inspiration from the text itself. Bell brought a relaxed confidence to the role of Trigorin, and his classical training shone through in his facility with elevated language. Dickman gracefully portrayed an actress past her prime who needed to maintain a semblance of vitality in order to preserve her career and her livelihood. Khaitman used extreme physical characterization to capture the foibles of a crotchety Sorin. Though she experienced some vocal difficulty as a result of an illness, Cole persevered through will power and a strong grounding in her character’s emotional life. The frailty of her speaking voice accentuated the nervousness and desperation of her role as a struggling actress. Finally, Pena was a rock at center stage. His honesty and strength made him an anchor for the audience’s understanding of the play even in his most turbulent scenes.

Hard at work since early September, the cast committed enormously to the production. Julia Pashall PI ’12 provided comic relief as she swapped genders to play Shamrayev, Sorin’s estate manager.

“The process was really stressful because it’s a huge show and we didn’t have a lot of time to put it on, but I’m proud of the product that came out of it,” Pashall said.

There is not enough room in this paper to cover the accomplishments of each member of the cast and crew, but all deserve recognition. The Notebook of Trgorn is a difficult and complex work that can baffle even the most experienced companies. These student performers met the challenge of Williams’s work bravely and with success.

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