Chekhov's masterful way of exonerating a myriad of themes and emotions from the mundane is incredible. A director of such a piece as Uncle Vanya is not charged with presenting the brilliance of the play but emoting its undertones--bringing to life its very nature via his or her interpretations.
Uncle Vanya, as rendered by Artistic Director Hal Brooks at the Pearl Theater could have been more precise with one Chekhov's masterpieces. Relatable and almost satirical themes such as unrequited love, the never-ending search for happiness, taking advantage of hospitality and family, selfishness, jadedness, brilliance inundated by mediocrity, helplessness that change is impossible at an older age, and that death is the ultimate form of peace were all present in Hal Brook's rendition of the play. However, Scenic Designer Jason Simms, Costume Designer Barbara A. Bell, Lighting Designer Seth Reiser, Sound Designer M. Florian Staab and Hal Brooks did not share the same visions of Uncle Vanya.
The costumes were of the late 19th to early 20th century, but the speech was almost modern. The set had difficulty orienting the viewer. The sound of horses was barely audible in some scenes but powerful in others. These discrepancies created unnecessary noise that Production Stage Manager Kevin Clutz and Production Manager and Technical Director Gary Levinson could not manage.
Mostly, the cast was humorous and enjoyable; albeit loud. Ivan Petrovich (Vanya), played by Chris Mixon, had me laughing each time his red faced character barged in. Mixon conveyed an envious 47-year old convinced that he had despairingly dedicated his life to the wrong ideals with gusto.
Similarly, Mikhail Lvovich Astrov's (Bradford Cover) playfulness and smooth interaction with the cast was always welcome. Cover made the dichotomy of the brilliant, idealist doctor stuck in the sticks believable. Sonya (Michelle Beck), Vanya's niece, showed the folly of unrequited love, youth and plainness while eliciting a reaction between laughter and pity.
Ilya Ilych Telegin (Waffles) an impoverished neighbor with a knack for the guitar played by Brad Heberlee; Marina, the Eastern Orthodox and affable family nurse played by Robin Leslie Brown; and Mrs. Voinitsky (Carol Shultz), the intelligence worshipping and ashamed mother of Vanya aided the cast in rendering the air of a country farm arrested by its unruly house guests: a young wife Yelena (Rachel Botchan) and her husband, Vanya's brother-in-law, Retired Professor “His Excellency” Alexander Serebriakov (Dominic Cuskern).
Cuskern presented Serebriakov easily as the unknowingly self-absorbed academic. Contrarily, Botchan’s Yelena lacked chemistry with the cast. Yelena was not portrayed as the type of woman able to seduce an entire household with her charm. At times she even seemed awkward on the stage.In all, I certainly laughed and enjoyed my first Chekhov experience. Although, the magic from his captivating prose was not fully captured by Hal Brooks.
Review By: Alexandra Lipari
Photos By: Al Foote III