The love triangles of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull return to wild-and-crazy 21st-century life in David Bucci’s Possum Carcass, the 120-year-old Chekhov classic retold as graphic novel … and the latest from the always intriguing Theatre Of NOTE.
Seagull stage star Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina has become daytime soap legend Mona Monroe (Lauren Letherer), her writer lover (still named Boris) a best-selling sci-fi novelist (Jonathon Lamer) and the unrequited passion of aspiring actress Nina (Nadia Marina), and said Nina the object of affection of lovelorn Conrad (Kjai Block) né Konstantin. Meanwhile, goth barmaid Lydia (Alana Dietze), whom Chekhov called Masha, pines for none other than Conrad.
Overseeing all of the above (once he’s done with Possum Carcass’s wacky, applause-earning pre-show announcements) is Conrad’s play’s special-effects man Angus (Travis York), every bit as lovestruck by a could-hardly-care-less Lydia as schoolteacher Medvedenko was by Masha.
The second contemporary Seagull adaptation L.A. theatergoers have been treated to in just the past six months, Possum Carcass can’t match Aaron Posner’s absolutely brilliant (and far more ambitious) Stupid Fucking Bird, but it has more than enough of its own twisted charms to entertain an audience for ninety-five minutes, particularly as directed by Alina Phelan and performed by a sextet of Theatre Of NOTE regulars and newbies.
Like Chekhov before him, playwright Bucci opens with Nina giving her sadly inept all to Conrad’s pretentiously avant-garde “performance” (don’t call it a play), and the result is every bit as hilariously disastrous an endeavor as was the Chekov original, and the reactions of its unwitting observers every bit as amusing to watch.
Equally comical are the quirks Bucci has assigned each of his protagonists, most notably to Angus, who has given up cigarettes for cough syrup (original-flavor only), who would never ever read a novel (especially not when there’s a movie version available), and who dreams of parlaying his grade-Z special effects “talents” to a major Hollywood career if only he can get Mona to invite him to her West Coast beach house.
As for Mona, the daytime diva is even more self-involved (and deluded about her youthful glow) as Arkadina was before her. (Her charity of choice, Artists Anonymous, created to aid victims of the dreaded “amateur syndrome” is a particular hoot.)
Boris is every bit as full of himself as his Chekhov namesake, only this time with a penchant for collecting dolls (sorry, make that “action figures”), Nina is even more of a starstruck fan than she was 120 years ago, and 21st-century Conrad remains no less mopey than his 19th-century counterpart, though his choice of carcass with which to impress Nina has turned from avian to marsupial (even if everyone does persist in dubbing that possum a rodent).
Some might complain that Possum Carcass lacks the “subtext” of Chekhov’s original, as if that were Bucci’s intention and he had somehow failed. (My guess is that subtext was the last thing on the playwright’s mind.)
It is true that Bucci’s broad strokes could easily turn characters into caricatures, however director Phelan insures that performances remain pretty much on the “merely heightened” side of over-the-top.
York’s mini-tornado of an Angus is the evening’s most dynamic, watchable performance, though it is far from the only gem.
The always terrific Letherer has great fun with (and the audience has great fun watching) the divalicious Mona, and an equally splendid Lamer (who played The Seagull’s Boris at the Chance a few years back) has just as much fun with this Boris’s equally self-centered pretensions. The divine Dietze makes for a deliciously dark Lydia, a hilarious Block channels Jack Black and Chris Farley to chunky, unkempt perfection, and NOTE newcomer Marina is an intensely focused, wide-eyed delight as Nina.
William Moore Jr.’s grungy, multilevel set representing the many floors of Mona’s big-city flat gives the cast plenty of exercise (and requires a good deal of stooping to avoid head-bashing), but it’s rather more barebones than the play deserves.
Bosco Flanagan’s lighting and Martín Carrillo’s sound design are both topnotch, as are the character-appropriate costumes Amanda Maciel Antunes has designed, though Mona’s flats may be more a practical choice (what with all that stair-climbing) than the high-heeled footwear the glamorous star’s divadom cries out for. Misty Carlisle’s props gets high marks as well, with special snaps for the one inspired by Bucci’s play’s title.
Possum Carcass is produced for NOTE by York and Cat Chengery. Stacy Benjamin is stage manager.
You don’t have to know The Seagull to enjoy David Bucci’s Possum Carcass, though those who’ve read the Chekhov masterpiece may well get the biggest kick out of seeing how the 21st-century playwright has served up Seagull (make that Possum) for today’s audiences. In either case, it’s almost imposs(um)ible not to have great fun at Theatre Of NOTE’s latest (if only slightly unpolished) gem.
Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles.
January 2, 2105
Photos: Darrett Sanders
In movies, barring the dreaded remake, you only get to see one cast of actors—ever. (In other words, don’t expect Ben Affleck and Emma Stone to be playing the roles originated by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Notebook any time soon.)
On TV, unless the show you’re following is a daytime soap, you can pretty much expect to see a character killed off the moment the role’s originator opts to depart. (Matthew Crowley would surely still be alive on Downton Abbey had Dan Stevens not decided he’d had enough.)
Theater is another thing altogether, and not only are playgoers offered the opportunity to see production after production of Proof, God Of Carnage, and Rabbit Hole (to name three recent much-produced hits), each one with an entirely different cast, even a single production can offer the treat of seeing more than one ensemble of actors at work.
Take for example The Antaeus Company, which allows L.A. theatergoers the chance to see each and every one of its “partner-cast” productions twice, or The Theatre @ Boston Court and Theatre Of NOTE, which regularly schedule all-understudy performances.
The most recent of these understudy nights I was able to catch yesterday evening in a revisit to NOTE’s World Premiere of David Bucci’s Possum Carcass.
Not only did a return visit make it clear that Bucci’s contemporary adaptation of Chekov’s The Seagull can stand very well on its own (without comparison to Aaron Posner’s similarly adapted Stupid Fucking Bird), its understudies made a second Possum Carcass every bit as exciting as Possum 1.0.
With Lauren Letherer the sole main-cast member not to be understudied, the Theatre Of NOTE treasure was, simply put, on fire last night, her fabulous work as soap star Mona Monroe made even richer and more fabulous by playing opposite a new lover, son, ex-brother-in-law, and female fan duo.
As for the understudies, Richard Werner positively exploded onstage in his excitingly unrestrained take on Possum Carcass’s most colorful character Angus, a terrific Jenny Gillett added warmer shadings to the dour Lydia, an equally splendid Jenny Soo made for a delightfully guileless Nina, and a marvelous Stephen Simon gave the deliciously preening Boris the most mellifluously-voiced North Atlantic vowels I’ve heard in a good long while. Most exciting of all was Weston Meredith’s irresistibly quirky boy-next-door of a Conrad, as distinct an interpretation of the role as you’d get were Chris Pine to take on Zach Galifianakis’s part in the Hangover franchise.
With director Alina Phelan allowing her understudies to make their own unique choices, there was nothing at all carbon-copy about last night’s show. In fact, the only performer not to have changed at all was the titular possum—once again a scene-stealer without even making a sound.
January 7, 2015