Theater Review: Weston’s “Uncle Vanya” inconsistent, but entertaining
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | September 03,2014
Photo by Tim Fort
Vanya (Liam Craig) observes through a window as Astrov (Campbell Scott) and Yelena (Kathleen McElfresh) confront their love for each other in Weston Playhouse’s “Uncle Vanya.”
Anton Chekhov’s wry 1897 comedy of country life, “Uncle Vanya,” is a theater icon. But with its focus on the tragedy of human nature, it can become maudlin rather than funny in the wrong hands.
But Weston Playhouse succeeded in delivering the entertainment as well as the pathos, despite a few missteps, at Friday’s opening night performance, thanks in part to a new adaptation.
Weston’s polished production runs through Sept. 6.
In “Uncle Vanya,” Serebyakov, a professor just retired from a Moscow university, has returned to his country home with his second, much younger wife Yelena. The estate, which provides Serebyakov’s sole support, is managed by his daughter Sonya and Vanya, his first wife’s brother.
Until now, Sonya and Vanya have lived a quiet unhappy life. But the constant demands of Serebyakov and the beauty of Yelena not only wreak havoc on the household, they underscore everyone’s unhappiness.
Yelena finds herself attracted to the country doctor, Astrov, forcing Sonya to reveal her unrequited love for him. And Vanya, too, is in love with Yelena.
Passion simmers, and the inevitable happens — it explodes!
What makes it so funny is that all the characters are all so self-defeating and determined to lose. And they are real — they are us.
Annie Baker’s adaptation, unlike the more stilted British versions, makes the vernacular more current and the play and its deep humor more direct.
The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company production, its first Chekhov in its 78-year history, was certainly funny, and there were deeply touching moments as well.
But it wasn’t all it could be with this excellent cast, for, directed by Mike Donahue, it simply tried too hard.
Masterpieces can enjoy many different insightful approaches, but this production mixed two disparate performance styles.
Realistic, dimensional and sympathetic were performances by Campbell Scott as Astrov and Kathleen McElfresh as Yelena (in real life a married couple).
Astrov is the most reasonable character in the play, and Scott mixed that with the philosophical doctor’s quiet forlorn desperation, and unexpected passion for Yelena. McElfresh delivered Yelena’s resignation to her marriage, with, at first, just hints at real passion, then more.
Conversely, Vanya and Sonya were given monochromatic performances, perhaps aimed at laughs. Liam Craig’s Vanya, rather than quiet and tentative as most depressed people are, was almost constantly loud and angry, taking away the power of his most spectacular scene.
Jeanine Serralles played Sonya as a lovesick teenager rather than the quietly desperate spinster — until near the end — Chekhov’s character really is. Still, both Craig and Seralles delivered some touching moments.
These four characters were supported by expert actors in the remaining roles. Munson Hicks was delightfully pompous and oblivious Serebyakov, supported with wonderful earnestness by Barbara Lloyd as the equally oblivious Maria, Vanya’s mother.
Cass Morgan felt authentic as the charmingly earthy nanny Maria, while Christopher Donahue was charmingly pathetic as Telegin, better known as “Waffles.”
Setting the action in contemporary Vermont worked well, and Dane Laffrey’s malleable set, with lighting by JiYoun Chang, was imaginative and attractive. But Anya Klepikov’s costumes were a mishmash of authentic, inauthentic and downright silly.
Despite an inconsistent approach, Weston Playhouse’s “Uncle Vanya” was certainly entertaining, offering its own insights into a masterpiece.
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” in a new adaptation by Annie Baker, Aug. 28-Sept. 6, at Weston Playhouse, Village Green (12 Park St.) in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays. (The show runs 2½ hours with one intermission.) Tickets are $59-$39, with some discounts to students and Vermonters; call 824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.