Theater: Hillbarn takes on Tennessee Williams

Anton Chekhov changed the face of European theater. About a half-century later, Tennessee Williams did the same for theater in America. Hillbarn Theatre presents “The Notebook of Trigorin,” Williams’ free adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” which runs through April 6 in Foster City.

In 1935 when Williams discovered Chekhov’s plays, he decided to become a playwright. Later, toward the end of his life, in “Notebook,” he openly borrows styles and themes from the great Russian dramatist.

“Notebook” premiered in 1981 in Vancouver, British Columbia; Williams continued rewriting it until his death, two years later. In 1996, the show was performed in the U.S. for the first time at the Cincinnati Playhouse.

Like “The Seagull,” “Notebook” focuses on themes of love, hate and jealousy, as experienced by writers and actors and their friends and families.

Randy Hurst, who has appeared with American Conservatory Theater, makes his Hillbarn debut as Trigorin.

Hurst is fascinated by this period in Russian history at the turn of the century. He says,”In the beginning you see a cultured, intelligent, well-traveled and sophisticated, witty man. But as time elapses, his other side is shown, a kind of self-destructive personality in his relationship with famous actress Arkadina. Both are very smart and attached to one another in a dysfunctional manner. Midway through the plot he changes, becoming more confused and brittle.”

Bobbi Fagone, a Peninsula actress who portrays Arkadina, has appeared before in plays by Williams. She describes Arkadina as a complex person who can’t see past her own needs: “This actress is very progressive in her era, going out by herself and performing. Trigorin is only famous because she took him to the leading publisher in St. Petersburg. Williams shows they are stuck together in a soap opera quality not seen in the original text.”

Director Dave Sikula enjoys the psychological depth and richness of characters in both Chekhov’s and Williams’ work. He says, “You can always find new dimensions. With Williams, the emotions are so raw, more forward and presented so bluntly, it is fascinating to watch the characters go through different situations. Williams wanted to show the American audience how close he is to Chekhov, making the characters and issues his own.”

The director also wants the audience to have fun and enjoy the fascinating bohemian characters who behave so badly.

Hillbarn Theatre is located at 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd. Tickets are $26 to $34. Call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.

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