“We need new forms,” cries Ben Cumings ’15 as the young and unsuccessful playwright Konstantin Treplev at the beginning of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” This weekend’s production, directed by Sam Fichtner ’14, makes the action itself a formal experiment that meditates on the broken selves of its characters on multiple scales.

The scene is a country house in late nineteenth-century Russia, where Treplev, his famous actress mother, family and friends gather for a revolving cycle of love triangles and empty aspirations. By turns narcissistic and communicative, the assembled talk through their frustrated attempts at self-actualization and romantic fulfilment with convincing desperation.

Fichtner writes in the playbill that he aims to register the full range of each character’s psyche. To that end, his staging keeps the entire cast onstage throughout the performance. Rather than leave for the wings, the actors migrate from the main sphere of action toward various cells of a large scaffold that fills the back of Wish Theater’s intimate black box.

This simple inversion richly densifies the drama in space and opens the content of the play up to a knowing dialogue with itself. The characters, who are all writers and playwrights and actors, already function ironically by worrying over their clichéd and maudlin creativity with outsized melodrama. Their existential crises are made all the more relative by circling each other silently, like bees in a hive.

The effect is mesmerizing in scenes where Quincy Koster ’15, as Treplev’s mother Irina Arkadina, holds court over an uneasily tittering dinner party while her son’s brooding and her lover’s infidelity haunt the scene from above and behind. When the foreground histrionics reach fever pitch, these other moving parts help the performance hold onto its subtlety.

The cast is skillful at holding the whole mess of jealous lovers and relatives in tension, both in the foreground and in the vignettes at the margins. The unrequited love of two women anchors much of the action: Shannon Grimes ’14 pouts solemnly and Kate Kearns ’14 is wonderfully blunt as the hard-drinking Masha. Joe Sise ’14, Denis Maguire ’15 and Peter Tracy ’14 play bumbling male figures who defuse many scenes with a great deal of welcome, if pitiful, humor.

Cumings, whose tragedy is the driving force of the action, broods and screams with his character’s depressive elasticity, often opposite Koster’s imperious, yet fragile, turn as Irina. The two explode at each other and then crumple with an intensity that sustains their subtextual actions in the background.

Senior Steve Strout is disarmingly confessional as Irina’s lover, the famous writer Trigorin, as he opens up to the aspiring actress Nina, played by Sarah Chalfie ’14. Chalfie performs the production’s most demanding scenes with dexterity, bubbling with her character’s hopeful naïveté at its beginning and her halting dispossession by its end. 

There will only be a few tickets left at the door for tonight’s show, but it is worth waiting in line for them.