Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Uncle Vanya" - Characters' Psyches Revealed - At Long Wharf

Forty-five years ago, the great theater director/writer Harold Clurman, providing an introduction for a collection of Chekhov plays and speaking of the Russian dramatist's pursuit of life as is, said "Life as it is lacks the direction, the causality, the cathartic effect of completed events. Like so many painters, composers, poets, novelists and.....playwrights, Chekhov was aware that the crises which are so neatly resolved by the linear form of drama are not so neatly resolved in life......The structure of a Chekhovian play is epiphanic; its purpose is to reveal-literally, to 'show forth'-the inner lives of his characters."

All of which points toward what some have dubbed Chekhov's "dramas of indirection." Theatergoers, at times, have complained that his characters talk and talk and talk but that little occurs. Nothing happens. A man who was on a personal quest for love, Chekhov, in an essay wrote, "One has to face the fact that man is a failure.....His conscience, which belongs to the spirit, will probably never be brought into harmony with his nature, his reality, his social condition....."

Conclusion: Chekhov perceived hopelessness as a human condition and was troubled that he saw little promise as men and women attempted to communicate with one another.

Taking all of this in perspective, one views Long Wharf's production of "Uncle Vanya." It is adapted and directed, with specificity, by Gordon Edelstein who has been studying and thinking about the play for two decades. The presentation is: beautiful, thoughtful, and sometimes richly comic. At the end, one still believes Chekhov, who said, "Life is an insoluble problem."

Welcome, at the end of the nineteenth century, to the estate of Serebryakov (William Biff McGuire) who is now married to Yelena (Elisabeth Waterston). Uncle Vanya (Mark Blum) and the brother of the Professor Serebryakov's first wife, used to run the place. Now, he is tired, negative, exasperated.....Vanya is sick of the retired Professor. Besides, Vanya pines for Yelena who seems totally uninterested. Sonya (Jennifer Dundas) is Serebryakov's daughter by his first wife and it is she who attempts to bring order to the estate. She happens to adore Astrov, a local physician. But, he is disspirited and not at all eager to love. Serebryakov details a plan to sell but Yelena convinces him to leave the area. And so on.

Starkly depicted by set maestro Michael Yeargan who utilizes wooden floor boards and expands the performance space (creating a most open feeling), the estate includes: a number of carefully positioned chairs, a piano, an eventual table.....

Music is auxilliary and assists in creating tone and mood -- at the very beginning of the play -- and, during intervals, too.

Blum and Biff McGuire, seasoned actors, are excellent, demonstrating perception, mastery of both text and character. Dundas, special in Long Wharf's "Aphrodisiac," brings a delightful versatility as she plays Sonya, who draws sympathy. Waterston, a tall, slender actress, smiles genuinely and often; she bestows great warmth as Yelena.

Symmetry within "Uncle Vanya?"
Try this: Waterston's father, Sam, arriving just before the show began, watched from a center orchestra seat. At the final curtain, he was first on his feet to applaud the entire cast.
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