Photograph courtesy of Indiana University

Jacob Dahm plays Konstantin and Allison Moody plays Arkadina in Andre Chekhov's "The Seagull," produced by the IU Department of Theater and Drama.

Unrequited love, artistic failure, death, and--comedy?

It might seem odd, given the first three themes, but comedy is undeniably present from the start of The Seagull, the IU Department of Theatre and Drama's latest production of Anton Chekhov's 1895 classic, when Masha comments, "I'm in mourning for my life" to Medvedenko, the schoolmaster who is desperately in love with her.

Chekhov's play, though centered on the depressing aspects of the human experience, also points out the humorous -- and often ridiculous -- elements to even the most painful moments in life. And the IU production, which opened this past Tuesday at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre at the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, highlights this well, thanks to the cast and set design.

The Seagull is the final MFA thesis project for several of the students involved in its production -- including director Erik Friedman, actress Allison Moody (Arkadina), scenic designer Chris Wych and lighting designer JoJo Percy -- and all should be pleased with the result.

Moody commands the stage as Arkadina, the aging actress and selfish mother. Whether she's pleading with her lover Trigorin, confessing that she never bothered to read her son Treplyv's work, or simply smoking a cigarette or powdering her nose, it's hard to tear your eyes from her.

But in fact, most of the actors in The Seagull captured their characters so well that they steal at least one scene in the show -- and Lilia Vassileva as Masha stole quite a few, shuffling across the stage drinking and pinching snuff and delivering lines like, "I'm in mourning for my life," with great comic timing.

Other notable performances include Josh Hambrock's as Trigorin and Jacob Dahm's as Konstantin. Both actors were at their best alongside Moody during tender moments -- for Hambrock, when Trigorin confesses to Arkadina about his obsession with Nina (played by junior Justine Salata); for Dahm, when Konstantin asks her to change the bandage on his head from his attempted suicide.

Salata's finest moment as Nina was in Act 1, as she performs Konstantin's failed play. And this scene also captured the other actors' skills, as they all stayed in character as disinterested audience members.

The faster pace of the play's first act is complemented well by the brighter lighting and country background, and likewise, the slower moving and bleaker second act is emphasized through the dark windows and low glow from the lamps spread across stage.

But even as the various story lines get more hopeless or frustrating in the second act, the action still moves well and stays exciting.

Director Friedman succeeded in making his production work, and the talented young cast could persuade anyone to become a new fan of Chekhov.

Alison Hamm can be reached at .