nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
September 21, 2010
The director and cast of Uncle Vanya, presented at Boomerang Theatre Company as part of their 2010 season, deserve great credit for presenting Chekhov's play clearly and simply. The trust they put into speaking the text lets the subtext and motivations of the characters shine through. Even if some moments are left unexplored or a few relationships are not yet as developed as they could be, the story is there.
Aleksandr Serebryakov, a professor of art theory, marvelously played by Ed Schultz, returns to the estate of his late first wife with his young second wife Yelena (Lauren Kelston) in tow. She may have been enamored with his intelligence and sophistication at one time, but now she finds herself wasting her youth as nursemaid to an insufferable old crank.
Her lazy sensuality, beauty, and constant complaints of boredom in that hardworking household madden Sonya (Eve Udesky), the professor's plain daughter by his first marriage, and bewitch Sonya's uncle, Vanya (the terrific James Leach), her late mother's brother. Serebryakov and Yelena's appearance has upset the way the entire household is run, even causing the elderly servant Marina (Sara Ann Parker) to complain that thanks to them, the samovar has gone out and the tea is now cold.
Astrov (Richard Brundage), a country doctor, ardent environmentalist, and alcoholic, is a frequent visitor to the household and Yelena too enraptures him. Sonya, meanwhile, is smitten with unrequited love for the doctor. As in many of Chekhov's plays, his characters' lack of self-awareness is the basis for comedy. Most of the time, the cast gets these moments and plays them beautifully.
For example, Leach as Vanya rails at the professor, "You've ruined my life! I might have been a Schopenhauer!" and it is hysterical. Who would want to be Schopenhauer? Similarly, Bill Weeden is a marvelous Waffles, nicknamed for his pockmarked appearance. He tells his friends that his wife left him for another man years ago, but he still supported her and her children by her lover for years, because, "at least I still have my dignity."
The few times the intentions are not quite clear seem to be during the soliloquies. I think the director Philip Emeott made a very interesting choice to have the characters speak directly to the audience when they are alone. It certainly breaks the convention of naturalism for which Chekhov is known.
However, there are so many ideas that pop up in the spur of the moment during these speeches that propel the characters to take impulsive action. It doesn't seem to jibe, then, when they sit and talk to us about how they feel and what they are going to do about it. It just seems too rational and yes, self-aware. We get the information from the characters that they are going to act without thinking, but they tell us as if they already had it all planned.
Aside from that, this is a production well worth seeing with a mostly excellent cast that has great facility for language and clarity. It is also fantastic to see several older and experienced actors on one stage get the opportunity to do marvelous work in classic parts.
Parker as the nurse Marina, Shultz as the professor, Dolores McDougal as Uncle Vanya's mother and, most especially, Weeden as Waffles, shine. Each of their performances is well worth the price of admission. Seeing their work together makes this a can't-miss show.