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‘Seagull’: Chekhov Tale Goes Hollywood

Anton Chekhov may have been ahead of his time, but as far as we know he never created characters who listened to Rush Limbaugh, wrote screenplays on computers or urged each other to “just chill a minute.”

Such creative anachronisms are among the many delights in “A California Seagull,” Cornerstone Theater Company’s sly, funny and tremendously inventive update of the Russian playwright’s classic “The Seagull.” The peripatetic Cornerstone is mounting the show at Santa Monica Place, site of the troupe’s equally stunning “Everyman at the Mall.”

Chekhov’s original followed the artistic agonizing of Konstantin, an aspiring playwright whose wretched Symbolist plays sought to represent life “as if in a dream.” In Alison Carey’s adaptation, Cameron (Christopher Liam Moore) creates pretentious performance art and rails against the “pathetic movie industry trash” that gathers around his actress mother Irene (Lisa Richards).

Taking over where Chekhov left off, director Bill Rauch and company satirize both theatrical pretension and Hollywood glamour. The worldly author Trigorin, for instance, here becomes Taper Trinnaman (Shishir Kurup), a decadent movie producer. When Trinnaman seduces Cameron’s muse, the aspiring actress Nina (Zilah), Rauch facetiously pipes in strains from “Hooray for Hollywood.”

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Rauch highlights the play’s clever dual structure by casting each ensemble member in dual parts--Zilah, for instance, turns in fine work as both the Lolita-like Nina and the dour, tobacco-chewing Maddy (Masha, in the original). Moore, meanwhile, gives a manic, Martin Short-like intensity to his critical role.

Carey and Rauch revise the setting to a Northern California vineyard home, which is imaginatively evoked even though the black-box stage (a former retail space) would for most companies lack sufficient lighting and offstage areas. Set designer Lynn Jeffries, an expert at making silk purses from sows’ ears, presses a pallet-like platform into service as a stage, a swimming dock, a bed and a desk.

* “A California Seagull,” Santa Monica Place, Level 2 above the food court, Fourth Street and Broadway, Santa Monica. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Ends May 21. $15. (310) 449-1700. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.


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