Review: The Seagull in Four Movements (Upstart Theatre)

Zack Amzallag, Stephanie Bitten, Elizabeth Tanner, Enzo Voci, Colin Murphy, Aisha Bentham, and Wesley J. Colford - photo by Madeline Haney

Thought-provoking theatre in The Seagull in Four Movements, staged at Toronto’s Winchester Kitchen and Bar

Upstart Theatre’s The Seagull in Four Movements takes place in a faded cocktail bar in present day Toronto. Like its late nineteenth-century Chekhovian reference, it’s rife with the passion of a love-pentagon – much more complex than a love-triangle – and balances everyday issues of vanity, insecurity and the pursuit of a mother’s love with modern-day vernacular. Writer/Director Meg Moran included lines like, “Sorry I was late, the College car was backed up” or “God I love Toronto!” to make the piece instantly accessible and applicable to the here and now, despite The Seagull’s antique origin.

For those who have yet to visit the historic Winchester Kitchen and Bar, site of The Seagull in Four Movements, it is a sight to behold. Originally part of The Lakeview Hotel, it once had an unobstructed view of Lake Ontario when it was completed in the early 1880s. Former haunt of Billie Holiday and Al Capone, the 1941 interior is protected by Heritage Designation as one of the rare examples of true Art Moderne Style (of which Eaton’s College Park and the Carlu theatre is another). Since its 1940s-era re-design, the space has had many names and varied success. For the purposes of The Seagull in Four Movements, a bar in fading glory acts as a perfect backdrop to the servers, bartenders, and tired stage performers who tell their stories.

The Seagull in Four Movements follows the story of Julian, an up-and-coming musician stuck in an angst-ridden creative suppression. He drives everyone – but most visibly his mother – crazy with his gloomy compositions and teenage outbursts. His arrogant, self-centred mother, Renée, is a famous singer, although it is revealed early on that most of her accomplishments are grossly exaggerated. Renée is currently seeing Boris, a legitimately talented composer from the Big Apple. Boris’ roving eye flits from Renée to Julian’s muse, Grace. And then we have bar-staffer Martha – hopelessly in love with Julian – and server Simon – hopelessly in love with Martha. The whole operation is held together by Peter, Renée’s brother and bar manager. He is father and friend to all who frequent the place.

The hyper-emotional text of The Seagull in Four Movements leads to the undoing of characters who fail to face their irrational romantic desires with logic. Can we blame them?! Between each section of the story, mini choreographed vignettes bathed in pink light summarize or project plot developments with varying efficacy. My guest adored their simplicity while I felt at times they were too silly to be successful.

Moody Julian (played by Enzo Voci) was spirited and emotional, but I had trouble believing he was in love with Grace (played by Elizabeth Tanner). Server Simon (played by Wesley J. Colford) was also unconvincing as an appropriate suitor for reserved, strong Martha (played by Aisha Bentham).

I thought handsome Boris (played by Zack Amzallag) was the least compelling character of all – lacking the oft referenced “lady-killer” moniker that was both revered and reviled by those who knew him. He exuded polished naïveté and humility instead of bravado and sexuality. Barkeep Peter (played by Colin Murphy) was genuinely kind and concerned, although had a tendency to raise the timbre of his voice and lower its volume to imperceptible levels in his most dramatic moments.

The ladies, on the other hand, were all characterized by delicious edge and personality. Stephanie Bitten spouted acrimonious statements about her child with calculated ease and humour as relentless mother, Renée. Aisha Bentham plays down-trodden Martha, whose ties to the tarnished bar run deeper than expected. Elizabeth Tanner as Grace was authentic and present, balancing her emotional highs and lows with consistent energy and clear projection, allowing every word to be heard.

Despite the clever interplay between environment and script, the Winchester Kitchen and Bar is a tricky space to perform theatre. Because the actors move throughout the room, they are often, if not always, partially hidden from view. While in most circumstances the room was well-used, director Meg Moran could have worked harder to incorporate high barstools more often than the floor-level front table. The final dramatic monologue occurs with the actors’ backs to the entire audience.

Come early and grab a seat and dinner for this 90 minute site-specific modernization of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 play The Seagull. Make sure to choose a seat in view of the area where the spotlights point. It was a gutsy, thought provoking evening out which lead to much consideration to the role of context in dramaturgy and the role of modernity in classic story-telling.


– The Seagull in Four Movements plays at the Winchester Kitchen and Bar (51A Winchester Street)till March 23rd 2013
– Performances run March 21 to 23. Music starts at 7pm and the show is at 8pm
– Tickets are $10/$15; Dinner Packages available starting at $30
– Reservations by email at

Featured musicians every night:

Brooklyn Doran: March 14th and 23rd; Daniel Gray: March 21st; Sash Lampert: March 22nd

– Photo of Zack Amzallag, Stephanie Bitten, Elizabeth Tanner, Enzo Voci, Colin Murphy, Aisha Bentham, and Wesley J. Colford by Madeline Haney