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Justin and Virginia Scheuer, founders of the Classical Edge Theater, are both gentle, enthusiastic, loving, laughing souls who light up any place they dwell. But Justin Scheuer's new play, "Masha's Seagull," takes them both to empty, cold places.

Masha is a peripheral character in Anton Chekhov's 1895 drama "The Seagull." She is obsessed with a writer, Konstantin, but is married instead to a poor schoolteacher, which only deepens her torment.


‘Masha’s Seagull’

WHEN — 7 p.m. today & Saturday; 7 p.m. Nov. 14; 2 p.m. Nov. 16

WHERE — In the black box theater at Fayetteville High School

COST — $15


"The Seagull," says Justin Scheuer, "is one of my favorite plays. For some reason, Virginia and I have always been drawn to this particular work and its meditation on how various people negotiate disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. There's something both bolstering and heartbreaking in Chekhov's work that allows you to feel deeply for a character, while, at the same time, getting a full, unfiltered look at their flaws."

Scheuer's play, he explains, "plucks one character out of the original play and explores some of the action through her lens and also looks at what might have become of her after the play ends." It begins after Konstantin commits suicide, and Masha finds herself in prison, awaiting exile to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island.

"All of her life, she has been invisible to everyone around her," Virginia Scheuer says of her character, the only character in "Masha's Seagull." "She wants desperately to be heard, to be seen, and in a way of coping, sees everyone around her as complete idiots -- except Konstatin. He is the thread that pulls her through life. There is a mental break when he dies -- all feeling for everything goes away. She is just done."

That is where Virginia Scheuer finds herself as she rehearses with her husband and director Eric Hill, artistic associate for the Berkshire Theatre Group in Massachusetts.

"I'm with her all the time right now," she says of Masha. "She lives with me. I think about her all the time. She is part of who I am. I get to be a part of who I am through her -- a deeper side I'm not allowed to express in real life. It's fun to be able to touch that part of myself. I love her.

"Justin, my amazingly talented husband, has in my mind, written me a love letter," she adds. "He wrote this character with me in mind. This may seem like a strange gift, taking into account this character's mental instability, but he wanted to create a role that allowed me to go a lot of different places as an actor. I love saying the words he's created that must come out of my mouth in each performance."

Justin Scheuer loves seeing his wife "draw from a deeper well than what she had been given."

"She is one of the most fierce and passionate actors I know. She's not afraid to go to some very vulnerable places, and I've been blown away by her level of specificity in this role."

He visited his own darkness, he admits, to find Masha's.

"You can't relate it to anything directly in the play," he says, "but some of my father's death, watching him die, is part of it. Like Masha, my inner terrain has pockets, caverns there now, that weren't there before. When he died, it was hard to imagine being really happy again."

Both playwright and actor have, however, been delighted to hand over the development of the play to Hill.

"He has been open about his love for the script and for this troubled character," Justin Scheuer says. "Virginia and I are amazed every day by his insight, his deeply compassionate view of the world. It's a cliche, but he's a true actor's director: He cares for his actors, he nurtures, protects them, while also finding ways to push them. This kind of approach has unlocked channels in Virginia I've never seen in any of her other performances before. It's so obvious how much she completely and utterly trusts him."

"It's an amazing piece of writing," Hill says of Justin Scheuer's script. "The playwright is the seminal artist. We look to him for leadership."

Between what Hill calls "first-class" writing and Virginia Scheuer's "passion and energy," they have created a character "so compellingly human, she is impossible to resist," he says.

NAN What's Up on 11/07/2014

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