Stephen Hamilton pulls off the extraordinary feat of creating brilliant boredom in his direction of "Uncle Vanya" at . Where characters range from too old to function, too beautiful to think, too rich to notice and too busy to dream; the talent of the actors make this Chekhov piece anything but mundane as we peep for a moment into the lives of these troubled souls.
The title of my review is meant as a compliment to the actors and director who take this story about admittedly soporific people caught up in the cycle of their daily lives, and breathe life into every scene and even in silence keep the energy high. The soundtrack of the show, provided by the guitar wielding neighbor Ilya Ilych Telegin (played with impeccable comedic timing and charisma by Daniel Becker), filled out the scenes with a bittersweet melody. Becker stands out in this cast, especially considering he is only one of two roles not filled by an equity performer. His character does as much in silence sitting and intently listening to his compatriots drone on about their woes as he does with his lines, bringing much needed comedy and perspective to the family. He is one of the few characters with legitimate concerns having been left by his wife but still financially supporting her entire family including the man she ran off with. Through it all he still manages to bring beautiful music, humor, and happiness to the estate.
As a 25-year-old with a constant rotation of no fewer than five jobs at a time, I personally felt most connected with Sonya (played by Alicia St. Louis). Her trembling voice and strained facial expressions made me pity her plight as the daughter of retired professor Alexander Serebriakov (portrayed by Herb Foster). Sonya works to exhaustion in order to maintain their country estate, all the while sending the proceeds to support her father and his work...and subsequently his gorgeous young second wife Yelena (played with poise by Rachel Feldman). Though Sonya sweats with a smile her eyes plead for recognition, respect, and love. She emotes her truest feelings only once, with a stifled laugh, when she lets herself open up to the idea of hope, thinking of a future with her infatuation, Dr. Mikhail Lvovich Astrov (played dashingly by the director, Stephen Hamilton). Her closing monologue, seemingly written with the intent to give the audience a taste of the monotony and melancholy that fills their days, shows that even though she no longer has any hope for herself on this earth, she would "keep on living," and in death she would finally feel the peace and love that her earthly father had not afforded her.
Her father, professor Serebriakov couldn't be consoled by the doctor, comforted by his friends, or catered to by his wife. The coddling by family nurse Marina (played by Janet Sarno) proves to be the only help this indignant professor can accept. Foster does an outstanding job proving that he is as oblivious to his physical conditions (constantly scoffing at the doctor's diagnosis) as he is to his family's emotional health. He and his wife clothe themselves in lavish attire, sit idly by while others tend to their needs, and don't seem the least bit affected when these facts are brought to their attention. Poor Uncle Vanya (Fred Melamed, who played convincing petulance as the woe-begotten uncle) strives alongside Sonya to provide for their lush lifestyle, and is driven mad by the end of the production. His unrequited, albeit inappropriate, love for Yelena, his fleeting youth, and the professor's lack of gratitude that Vanya dedicated his best years in service him push him to a dramatic, if not a bit childish, break down.
The scene in which the professor's wife meets the doctor to look at his drawings was my favorite. The doctor, a mix of Al Gore and the Lorax, shows three drawings of their region through the past few decades. Each drawing depicts the decline and extinction of their forestry and wildlife. In this scene the previously faithful and staunchly committed wife allows her own moral fiber to deteriorate until she loses herself in lust for the doctor in a passionate kiss. The symbolism of the doctor's obsession with planting and charting trees in order to sustain, create, and improve life for future generations correlated to his desire to free Yelena from her aged and weary husband and let her live and flourish.
The entire cast was tight, and the fact that the audience sits on stage with them made the intimate experience at times even awkward, as though we were eavesdropping on personal moments that we shouldn't have seen. While I felt that some of the staging kept the actors backs to the audience and we missed certain expressions and movements, perhaps it worked well to provide a little distance between the story and the audience. Either way, this production brings everything but yawns, even though the characters in the play can't seem to get out of their rut.
“Uncle Vanya” Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m., through May 20
John Drew Theater at Guild Hall.
Tickets are $25, $23 for Guild members and $10 for students
For reservations call the box office at Guild Hall at 324-4050 or visit guildhall.org