Uncle Vanya Review - "I've Always Been a Minor Character"

 

With these words, temptress Yelena summarize the lives of all the current residents of this Russian country estate. And yet Chekhov makes these minor characters sing through the words of Annie Baker, playwright/translator extraordinaire. Individually, none of these people will make any lasting marks on the world; yet, together, they create a tapestry of life on a Russian estate in the 1880’s and what happens when they are exposed to sophisticated big city professor Serebryakov and his attractive, sexy, and very young wife Yelena. While plain country girl Sonya pines fruitlessly over the exciting Dr. Astrov, both Vanya and Astrov pine over the elusive Yelena. Truly a Russian soap opera with a twist. Will these dichotomous characters change from their exposure to each other? Is a happy ending possible?

 

 

 

Near the end of the play, Astrov comments: “...in one hundred, two hundred, years, there will be people who look back and laugh at us because we lived our lives so foolishly and tastelessly. Maybe those people will have found a way to be happy.” With true Russian angst, each of the characters is looking for a happiness which is just beyond his reach.

 

 

 

Uncle Vanya (Arye Gross/Don R. McManus) has surrendered his youth and talents to caring for the family estate - but longs for more. Astrov (Andrew Borba/Jeffrey Nordling) spends his days searching for more than his medicine can offer. Nearing the twilight of his life, Serebryakov (Harry Groener/Lawrence Pressman) fights growing old, both loving and resenting his young bride Yelena (Rebecca Mozo/Linda Park). Sonya (Shannon Lee Clair/Rebekah Tripp) hopes that life will offer more than she has. While the other cast members look on, the principals all crave something that is just beyond their grasp.

 

 

 

Whether this is due to mid-life crisis or simply to a shortage of possibilities in their lives, each character feels frustrated and unhappy. UNCLE VANYA is truly a microcosm of life in Russia a hundred years ago. Despite the fact that the play was written near the end of the nineteenth century, it is not dated. Many of the themes explored in UNCLE VANYA are as timely today as when they were written. Besides, human nature will always be human nature, as Chekhov so eloquently demonstrates.

 

 

 

UNCLE VANYA is partner casted, with the same roles in the “Mermaids” and the “Vixens” casts. Director Robin Larsen helms both casts, each of which may have slightly different interpretations of the parts they play. UNCLE VANYA starts out at a slow pace - perhaps just a touch too slow - which gradually builds, so that the second act vibrates with emotions which were submerged earlier. Intermittently, two musicians (playing mandolin and accordion) enter the proceedings singing songs reminiscent of the 1960's. This proved rather distracting, especially as the play ended. Despite these relatively minor issues, UNCLE VANYA is well worth seeing. Special kudos to both sets of actors who use their special talents to flesh out their characters with consummate skill.

 

 

 

UNCLE VANYA runs through December 6, 2015, at the Antaeus Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30-$34. For reservations, call 818-506-1983 or go online at www.Antaeus.org.

 

 

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