Anya Reiss's sparkling 2012 adaptation of Chekhov's breakthrough play begins as a veritable bonfire of the artistic vanities as it chronicles the onstage, backstage, and offstage disaffections among a group of artists and the unfortunates who happen to be related to (or, even worse, in love with) them.
In this Bartlett Theater production, director Jonathan Bohun Brady gratifies Reiss's mostly comic treatment of Chekhov's first two acts with a uniformly well-cast ensemble. As Adam Kampouris probes the theatrical jealousies of the neurotic young Konstantin, Emily Rieder's goth Masha carries the torch for him while being hounded by the whining Medvedenko (Chris Wright).
As the avuncular Sorin, Jim O'Brien eases tensions between Konstantin and his actress mother, Arkadina (Beth Ritson)—until she accidentally-on-purpose upstages his unfortunate first play. Even Konstantin's love interest, wannabe actor Nina (Moriah Williams), knows his script is a bomb, but she dutifully plows through its turgid prose before an increasingly restive onstage audience of islanders.
In the second and third acts, principal characters pursue lovers as clearly unobtainable as they are unworthy. We admire Shannon Malone's integrity as Polina, pining for the eternally noncommittal Dr. Dorn (crisply portrayed by Joey Infinito). Reiss paints Nina as a starstruck fool for Arkadina's consort, Trigorin, a famous novelist with conspicuous feet of clay (Jon Parker Douglas). David Klionsky adds commentary as the sardonic, overinflated caretaker, Shamrayev.
In Brady's imaginative outdoor staging, the audience visits four sites across the attractive grounds of a historic country house near the Eno River. Reiss's present-day adaptation and a nimble ensemble keep the audience on its feet, though the pacing begins to drag in a mostly humorless final act. Until the characters' predicaments, understandably, ground it in the end, this Seagull flies higher than any I've seen.