In a funky, fresh interpretation of what Irish Theatre Magazine has called “[Anton] Chekhov’s greatest play” and hailed as one of the top 10 shows of 2012 by both The New York Times and New York Magazine, John Vreeke directs Chekhov’s newly adapted classic by Pulitzer Award-winning dramatist Annie Baker (The Flick) with a well-known and diverse assembly of DC actors in a production that creatively re-envisions and reinvigorates Round House Theatre’s performance space.
Set on an impressively accented, free-flowing, multi-functional outdoor/indoor abode, artfully designed by Misha Kachman, Uncle Vanya is a delicately blended tragicomedy about unrequited love, thwarted ambition and enduring hope surrounding a generational family who is turned upside down by the return of an elderly professor and his glamorous, much younger second wife to their rural estate.
The old professor Serebryakov (Jerry Whiddon) lives in the city but owns a country estate that is run by his daughter Sophia (Kimberly Gilbert) and brother-in-law Vanya (Mitchell Hébert). He comes to visit with his new young wife Yelena (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey). The professor is old and ailing, as is the estate, which has been overtaken by degradation. The country doctor Astrov (Ryan Rilette) shows up to care for the professor, setting in motion a series of bifurcated struggles and teetering tensions, ultimately culminating in the professor announcing his decision to sell the estate.
Whiddon’s performance as the lofty, aloof professor is respectable. Likewise, Nancy Robinette’s performance as the housekeeper Marina is soothingly sage and sensible. However, the main thrust of the play involves the triangular intertanglements brewing between Vanya, Astrov, Sophia, and Yelena.
Rilette, who is Round House’s Producing Artistic Director, plays a cool, charming and confident Astrov, capturing the fancy of both Sophia and Yelena with his unique Renaissance-man appeal atop his environmental quests and medical training. Similarly, Hébert’s Vanya attentively captures his pronounced inferiority complex towards the professor with his emotionally-charged outbursts of rage and demonstrative body gestures. Fernandez-Coffey is ravishing and acutely self-aware as Yelena, balancing the role of a sultry siren twinged with disenchantment and disdainfulness.
Correspondingly, Gilbert does a tremendous job portraying Sonya, Serebryakov’s homely, but dedicated and dutiful daughter. Mark Jaster, Happenstance Theater‘s Artistic Director, is delightfully amusing as Waffles, masterfully playing his harmonica, alongside Eric Shimelonis’ piano and accordion accompaniment as Yefim – both were fantastic in adding sheer moments of levity and lightheartedness throughout the production. Joy Zinoman rounded out the cast as Vanya’s cerebral mother.
It is no easy feat taking a 19th Century classic and revamping it to make it contemporary and relevant, but Round House’s Uncle Vanya reaps what it sows in its audacious production, reintroducing and reigniting with earnest fervor Chekhov’s insightful genius to reveal hopeful moments in the midst of life’s sorrows.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 35 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.