Reaching the end of this exquisite Writers’ Theatre production, all I wanted was to watch it again, backward. I longed to see its bitter climax give way to the sweet beginning I’d enjoyed so much, even though I knew the sweetness was false: a little sugar to palliate the bad bets made, bad breaks got, bad fates set in motion, and loaded guns waiting to go off. The play begins with a kind of existential round-robin. Masha pursues Konstantin, who adores Nina, who’s smitten with Trigorin, who belongs to Arkadina, whose only real suitor is Konstantin, her son, who keeps trying to arouse her maternal feeling. The women are foolish but the men are worse. And so we consider them silly at first, but by the play’s final act their antics have assumed an awful gravity. Director Michael Halberstam carries out this bait and switch deftly, his first half mercilessly charming. I felt about the younger characters in particular as I might about a friend’s grown children who’d gotten into trouble: a queasy gut sadness, not only at their situation but at the knowledge that they’ve had their inevitable meeting with the world. Through 12/5: Tue-Fri 8 PM, Sat 5 and 8 PM, Sun 2:30 and 6 PM, Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe, 847-242-6000, $45-$50.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.