Annie Baker’s new version of Uncle Vanya has a sound and emotion that feels like it’s a new work. Much of this can be credited to director Jackie Maxwell’s fine ear for how people talk and what they mean by the words in this noble salute to the Anton Chekhov original.
There’s so much to love about Neil Barclay’s tightly wound title character. Drowning in self-loathing, caught in a wasted life, crushed by his depression but still able to react like a spazzed-out schoolboy with his desperate yearning for his brother-in-law’s lovely wife, it’s the role many have been patiently waiting to see him master returning festival playgoers.
Often animated by the irony of his life, at the end, his face freezes into a mask of anguish as he resigns himself to the endless, empty days that lie ahead. Utter brilliance!
We first meet Dr. Astrov (Patrick McManus) as he intones Chekhov’s mantra, “I’m bored. I’m boring. I can think but I can’t feel anything.”
Despite his words, Astrov has passion and a vision—a forestation to last forever. McManus gives an endearing and altogether coherent reading of the part.
And then there’s the trophy wife Yelena (Moya O’Connell), who immediately sets all the men’s hearts aflutter. She unhinges Vanya and has a similar effect on Astrov who is called in to treat her malingering husband and stays for the rest of the summer.
What’s remarkable about the company’s impressive staging is that there’s never a dull moment despite the dark undertones that surround these lives with the audience becoming intimately engaged by the touching and wistful characters.
Add in the fact that there are potent moments of distilled emotion filled with the poignancy and absurdity and Uncle Vanya goes down as an all-around pitch-perfect production
UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekov May 1 – September 11, 2016 COURTHOUSE THEATRE, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario TICKETS $25.00 – $117.00 www.shawfest.com 1-800-511-7429 CAST Neil Barclay, Moya O’Connell, Harveen Sandhu, Patrick McManus, Donna Belleville, Sharry Flett, Peter Millard and David Schurmann DIRECTOR Jackie Maxwell SET AND COSTUMES Sue LePage LIGHTING Rebecca Picherack ORIGINAL MUSIC Paul Sportelli