Charlie Sexton & Hallie Dizdarevic in Uncle Vanya.
By Anton Chekhov
Adapted by David Mamet
From an English translation by Vlada Chernornick
Directed by Hal Park
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Uncle Vanya is presented by Walden Theatre as a part of an educational focus on the work of Anton Chekhov in their 2014-15 curriculums. The season has already featured a production of Three Sisters cast with students and directed by Charlie Sexton. Now the faculty of Walden and Blue Apple Players take the stage in Vanya. The two companies are in the midst of merging, and this might be called the first major artistic crossing of the streams.
Yet this Vanya is no vanity project motivated by political needs. Between them, the two companies boast a range of talent that might be the envy of other theatre groups in town, making this opportunity to show off a worthwhile evening’s entertainment.
In director Hal Park’s program notes, he cites Chekhov’s choice to write about the average “Joe,” instead of the aristocratic and royal characters that had dominated drama beforehand, yet his characters are always educated, sophisticated people of some property and social standing, which must strike a contemporary audience as a world apart from their own experience. Here Chekhov presents a set of characters that are so engaged in self-pity that the play would be profoundly off-putting if not for the masterful dialogue and humor and the skill with which the playwright makes us identify with the unrequited desires so powerfully portrayed onstage.
As Yelena, Hallie Dizdarevic majestically embodies the woman who is an object of desire for three men in the play. She adroitly balances a regal bearing with maturity beyond the character’s tender age of twenty-seven years that illustrates supreme self-awareness and compassion. Julane Havens gives Sofya a tragic, pained emotional quality that is heartbreaking, and Benjamin Park’s Astrov is immediately complex intellectually but emotionally confused. In a stunning series of scenes late in the second act, the delicacy of the exchanges between these three characters is enthralling: lines of dialogue reduced to hushed tones just barely audible but assuredly communicated.
As for Vanya, Charlie Sexton finds suitable saturnine perspective throughout the play, but it is his volcanic eruption in act III that makes a lasting impression. When his brother-in-law Alexandr, played by a forceful Paul Lenzi, suggests selling the estate that is their home, Vanya builds quickly into a berserker rage of such ferocity that one would be tempted to accuse Mr. Sexton of chewing the scenery. Yet the emotional foundation is well laid, and the visceral reality of the tantrum is excruciatingly honest. At times the play seems to belong more to Astrov or Yelana, but this moment powerfully reminds us that it is Vanya who stands against the encroachment of modernity and change.
Remaining cast members Jennifer Pennington, Monte Priddy, Geraldine Ann Snyder, and Walden student Ciaran Brown all keep the ball in the air with solid support. Costumes by Laura Patterson were flawless; a parade of grounded earth tones in soft wools, crushed crinoline and lace for the first half, set in summer, and darker, chillier colors every bit as rich in their appointment for the early autumn scenes after the intermission.
Chekhov’s dark comedy may not strike everyone as appropriate holiday fare, but theatre this good is welcome in any season. In between the sugar and good cheer of Christmas Carol and Nutcracker, Uncle Vanya offers a bracing jolt of vinegar and rage against complacency.
December 11 – 20, 2014
1125 Payne Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]