In the play, Vanya and his sister, Sonya, have been managing the country estate of an esteemed university professor and author, Alexander, for many years. Tiring of city life, Alexander, accompanied by his much younger and attractive wife, Yelena, arrive at the estate with much fanfare and proceed to throw matters into a tizzy. Among other things, Alexander proclaims that the estate is to be sold so that he and Yelena may use the proceeds to afford a nicer lifestyle elsewhere. Another complication is that the sultry Yelena's presence makes every man's head spin.
Director Michael Donahue chose not to set the play in 1898 Russia, but rather circa 1970s with a rural Vermont feel. Cellphones were absent, and one character debated playing a record album from the pile in a box on the floor. For the most part, Costumer Anya Klepikov clothed actors in everyday shirts and blue jeans. The minimal set by Dane Laffrey exposed the back Playhouse wall and open barn door to the outside. All seemingly was designed to support playwright Annie Baker's new, plain-spoken translation of the original Russian text.
About the production, Director Donahue has commented that he wanted "the actors and audience alike to feel as if they are breathing the same air, suspended on the same breath." Sadly, although many individual performances were fine, the actors on stage never really meshed with one another, and Chekhov's gripping saga of people confronted by change never fully engaged one's attention.
Campbell Scott portrayed Astrov, a physician with philosophical musings, as a taciturn man of frugal speech. On the other hand, Liam Craig's strident manner as Vanya made his character, who had sacrificed so much for the benefit of others, simply annoying. As Yelena, Kathleen McElfresh appeared more at ease in Chekhov's world, where lethargy ruled. Other actors in the large cast navigated their way with varying success. As Sonya, Vanya's shy sister who harbored a longing for Astrov, Jeanine Serralles made us feel her character's pain when Astrov dismissed Sonya's love for him. Munson Hicks's interpretation of Alexander as an entitled, if clueless patrician served the story. In a relatively minor part, Cass Morgan made her very natural interpretation of Marina seem effortless.
One hopes that this production of "Uncle Vanya" will find its sea legs as the run continues. Chekhov is not for the meek and an abbreviated rehearsal schedule for a new take on an old chestnut can prove daunting.
Performances of "Uncle Vanya" continue at the Weston Playhouse through September 6. For tickets, call (802) 824-5288 or go online at www.westonplayhouse.org.
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