Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s play, The Seagull, appealed to Jamaican-born actor Yanna McIntosh on several fronts.
Crow’s Theatre is collaborating with Canadian Stage and The Company Theatre to present the masterpiece, directed by Crow’s Theatre artistic director and 2013 Siminovitch Prize winner, Chris Abraham.
“This production is interesting because the script is written by Chekhov and I have not had an opportunity prior to now to do a full-length piece by him,” said McIntosh, who made her Stratford debut in 1992 in Two Gentlemen of Verona. “The director interests me as I have worked with him before and had an enjoyable time. I am very keen to work with him again and he’s assembled a wonderful cast that is just fun to be around. To crown it all, the play is a beautiful piece.”
First produced in 1896, The Seagull dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between four characters – the famous middlebrow story writer Boris Trigorin, the ingenue Nina, the fading actress Irina Arkadina and her son Konstantin Tréplev, who is a symbolist playwright.
A three-time Dora Award winner and Gemini Award recipient, McIntosh plays the role of Arkadina in the adapted version.
“I am the matriarch of the family and an ageing actress,” she said. “I have a son who is an up-and-coming actor with whom I have a tense relationship as he thinks I am kind of old-school. My character struggles with being an actor, artist, mother, sister, matriarch and someone who is somewhat successful.”
The cast also includes Bahia Watson, who was born in Winnipeg to a Guyanese mother and a Canadian father. She plays the role of Masha, who is depressed and hates her life.
Watson is the youngest cast member.
“We work on different stages in the same building so I get to watch how these seasoned actors investigate their character and how they move on stage,” she said. “I feel so privileged to watch them work. It’s a beautiful cast and every moment and scene is very rich for me. I am learning a lot.”
Watson’s mother, Beatrice Watson, is a poet, social justice advocate and Manitoba Human Rights Commission outreach liaison officer while her father, Stephen Watson, is a teacher and folk musician.
The young actor left Winnipeg eight years ago to explore new challenges in Toronto.
“I always wanted to be in a big city with more people and options,” she said. “The thing about Winnipeg is that you feel so isolated and far away from everything. I was really excited to see what life is like beyond Winnipeg.”
Watson’s older sister – Guyanese-born Maiko Watson – was a member of Sugar Jones, the girl group assembled in the 2001 Global TV series, “Popstars”.
Watson and McIntosh are the only two Black cast members in The Seagull, which runs from January 11 to February 8 at the Berkeley Theatre, 26 Berkeley St.
“The classics are stories that have a universal appeal,” said McIntosh, who graduated from Vaughan Road Academy (formerly Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute) and has an undergraduate degree and a teacher’s certification. “The reason those stories endure is that they appeal beyond the cultures they are expressly written for and they last for generations.”