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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Classic Stage Company


  Denis O'Hare and Maggie Gyllenhaal/Ph: Joan Marcus

Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya is a play of rare beauty, profoundly moving and often hilarious. Yet at the Classic Stage Company on East 13th Street, director Austin Pendleton is presenting a production of the play that only scratches the surface of this great work. This season the Chekhov bar has been set pretty high: with a superb revival of The Seagull on Broadway and at BAM The Bridge Project currently performing a first-rate production of The Cherry Orchard.

At first glance Mr. Pendleton's Uncle Vanya does pose some youthful star potential: Peter Sarsgaard , direct from playing Trigorin in the aforementioned Seagull , plays Astrov, a country doctor- Maggie Gyllenhaal, is the object of his desire as Yelena, and the Tony Award winning actor Denis O'Hare plays Vanya, while Mamie Gummer is his niece Sofya.

Yet this Uncle Vanya often seems to be at cross purposes and only comes alive in the climatic act two. One of its main problems is Mr. Pendleton's choice to use a translation by the Russian scholar Carol Rocamora rather than an adaptation. To me English language productions of Chekhov succeed or fail on who is chosen to adapt them. One of the reasons the recent Seagull and Cherry Orchard have met with such success are because they were re-fashioned-usually from a variety of translations- for today's audiences by seasoned playwrights Christopher Hampton and Tom Stoppard.

By providing only a literal translation by Ms. Racamora, Mr. Pendleton not only undercuts much of the play's drama and theatricality, but also sacrifices Chekhov's wonderful ironies.

The play's set designer hasn't helped much either. Santo Loquasto, a seasoned pro, here has attempted to replicate a wooden Russian country house that fills most of the CSC's small playing area. The audience seated on three sides of the stage often finds itself plagued by obstructed sight lines for much of the play.

Uncle Vanya is in part a reworking of an earlier Chekhov play The Wood Demon (1888), a failure which closed after only six performances. Uncle Vanya was tried out in smaller Russian cities during 1898, and opened at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899. The Vanya , of the title is a pathocomical character. A middle age incompetent with a good heart who like a lot of Chekhov's characters is clumsy in crisis. He has along with Astrov fallen in love with Yelena the young second wife the elderly Professor Serebryako (George Morfogen) who was once his brother-in-law and more importantly a man he idolized. When we meet Vanya he is disillusioned, embittered and frustrated. He yearns for Yelena, who most of the time chooses to ignore him. She finds him tiresome.. He tends to drink too much and bemoan his fate and when he can't stand it anymore gets a gun and tries to shoot the professor. The climatic moment of Uncle Vanya is the frantic scene in which the shooting takes place. The distracted Vanya chases the old man, fires twice but misses. That is the essence of Vanya, he can't even kill a man he hates with a loaded gun at arm's length.

Uncle Vanya demonstrates with irony that most human beings of good will are apt to be comical - even ridiculous when they rise to act in a crisis situation. Vanya is by nature warm and friendly, but incapable of direct responsible action.

Mr. O'Hare gets most of Vanya on stage, his performance is more honest and more competent - especially in manifesting the pathetically comic side of the character - than anyone else in the production which suffers from a lack of an ensemble cohesion.

Mr. Sarsgaard is still a work in progress when i


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