Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
Artistic director Gordon Edelstein has brought his own vision to this Chekhov classic. “Uncle Vanya,” now at Long Wharf Theatre, carries the familiar Chekhov theme of lost opportunities, nurtured regrets, wasted lives. With the starkest of stage sets—a few tables and chairs—he puts the emphasis on performance and text.
In neither area does this production disappoint. This “Uncle Vanya” is the very essence of the Chekhovian theme—that life in the country can be stultifying, without even the gratification of love to save the day.
Edelstein’s carefully-chosen cast brings the story sharply into focus. Heading the cast is the excellent Mark Blum. His Uncle Vanya is a mix of sardonic wit, desperation, and longing for lost opportunities. He turns his life—and the play—into tragic-comedy. His searing performance reaches out across the footlights, and one longs to save Uncle Vanya from himself. Every bit his match—in suffering, endurance and performance—are Jennifer Dundas as Sonya his niece and Marco Barricelli as Astrov, the country doctor. They, too, would like to rewrite their own histories. In fact, one is hard put to find a happy character in this assemblage.
What, specifically, drives them to the brink of desperation? For years, it seems, Vanya and Sonya have slaved to keep the estate afloat, sending a regular stipend to Sonya’s father (Vanya’s brother-in-law). The latter, one Serebryakov, writes essays and basks in his own imagined fame. This one-time professor returns to the family estate with his young second wife for an extended visit—a visit which throws the country people into turmoil. It is also then that Vanya recognizes his brother-in-law for the fraud he is, and he lashes out, alas, too late.
The story is both universal and surprisingly contemporary. Don’t we all have regrets of omission? Don’t some of us find comfort in religion? Aren’t some of us (like the doctor) concerned with saving the planet? All these themes permeate the story.
If we have one criticism of this fine production, it is with the stage set. Though the set emphasizes the play’s somber theme, it is nonetheless a distraction and an inaccuracy. Surely this is not the Russian steppes, but a weathered old country estate which confines its occupants, and a confined setting would be more appropriate.
Nevertheless, this Long Wharf production is an “Uncle Vanya” worthy of its writer, its director, and its cast.
-- Irene Backalenick
May 18, 2007