Aurora Penepacker and Ryan Kirby in Oak Park Festival Theater's production of SEAGULLS by Beth Hyland | Courtesy of Josh Darr

Oak Park Festival Theater has mounted a strong, energetic production of Beth Hyland’s Seagulls, an indie-rock musical adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 Russian play. The plot now focuses on four college students who are about to compete in a battle of the bands. Love, of course, overlaps. 

The production is performed at the 1897 Pleasant Home, the play’s historical contemporary, located at Pleasant & Home.

Seagulls are free and supposedly fearless. So are the young characters in this play, but perhaps not completely. The actors each play instruments and sing. The score makes for pleasant listening.

Rebecca Willingham deftly directs her four actors: Ryan Kirby, Veronique Le, Aurora Penepacker, and Julio Cesar Gutierrez.

 The updated play has been shifted from late 19th-century Russia to the contemporary university world. While the play features plenty of humor, the plot also illustrates the pain of love and the restless isolation facing artists.

 The characters are very relatable. Ryan Kirby plays a songwriter who fears he may never live up to his pop diva mom and her songwriting boyfriend. 

 The dialogue is often both sad and funny at the same time. These college students and their conflicts vividly illustrate what it’s like to be young. This is especially effective when the musicians are on the phone with their parents. We get sudden insight into their backgrounds.

 The music is fun, providing the plot with a solid contemporary mood and tone. The score makes this a warmly appealing show, which is not what one naturally expects from a production based on a Chekhov play.

 Jonathan Berg-Einhorn’s scenic design utilizes the intimate Pleasant Home performance space. The rear wall is nearly covered with album covers and celluloid records.

 The musical adaptation of Beth Hyland’s Seagulls has wide appeal. Although some of the dialogue is mature in content, there is never anything offensively vulgar. This is a show that can be enjoyed by high school students on up.

 Performances of “Seagulls” run through Nov. 19 at Pleasant Home. Performances are Wednesdays-Fridays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. 

Join the discussion on social media!

Doug Deuchler has been reviewing local theater and delving into our history for Wednesday Journal for decades. He is alsoa retired teacher and school librarian who is also a stand-up comic, tour guide/docent...