Monday, May 30, 2016


James Karas

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov adapted by Annie Baker.
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Ivan Petrovich (Vanya)            NEIL BARCLAY
Yelena                                   MOYA O’CONNELL
Dr. Astrov                               PATRICK McMANUS             
Sonya                                    MARLA McLEAN                   
Serebryakov                           DAVID SCHURMANN
Telegin                                   PETER MILLARD
Continues in repertory at the Court House Theatre,
Niagara-on-the-Lake until September 11, 2016.   

**** (out of five)

Chekhov is not easy to pull off. Jackie Maxwell has done it with grace and style in her production of Uncle Vanya.

Russia at the end of the 19th century according to Chekhov was a mortuary with a few of the corpses in the last phases of rigor mortis.  Uncle Vanya gives us a portrait of life on the country estate of Professor Alexander Serebryakov (David Schurmann). The people on the estate may have had hopes, dreams and ambitions in the past but in the present they have malaise, boredom and indolence. The only hope they have is to find peace and happiness in heaven when God takes pity on them.

Chekhov has woven this world in the intricate Uncle Vanya with humour and pathos. It lies in the hands of the director to bore the audience or to capture the humour and the pathos and deliver amazing theatre.

(l to r): Marla McLean as Sonya, Patrick McManus as Astrov, Moya O’Connell as Yelena, Donna Belleville as Maria Vasilyevna, Neil Barclay Vanya and Peter Millard as Telegin in Uncle Vanya. Photo by David Cooper.

Serebryakov has retired after regurgitating the thoughts of others in his useless books and articles. The gout-ridden professor is utterly impractical and survives in his self-absorption somewhere between his physical ailments and his forgettable writing. Despite his age and shortcomings, however, he has taken for his wife the beautiful 27-year old Yelena (Moya O’Connell).

Yelena was raised in Petersburg and studied at the conservatory and she seems to have suppressed all life and passion with possibly some exception. In the first act, however, she exemplifies life on the estate as she sits on a swing and moves languorously and lethargically, oblivious to her surroundings.    

Dr. Astrov (Patrick McManus) is the catalyst of the play. He is attracted to Yelena and attempts to have an affair with her. She is attracted to him but recoils from his advances. The rotund and bored Vanya is also attracted to her but she rejects him as well. Serebryakov’s daughter Sonya is attracted to Astrov but he does not reciprocate her affection.
The title character played superbly by Neil Barclay captures the torpor of this society, fine acting assisted by physical appearance.

We also have the pathetic and impoverished landowner Telegin (Peter Millard) whose wife left him after their wedding and he is still supporting her.

Maxwell with her fine cast manages to evoke laughter, not an easy task in a play where the usual complaint is that of boredom. More importantly she shows the malaise of this society where a pause expresses an eternity and is the natural consequence of what these people are and not an artificial delay in speech.

Moya O’Connell moves around languidly with beauty and passion displayed like fruit on a tree in autumn, perhaps still edible but almost certainly ready to fall off. The hopes of Sonya to attract Astrov are dashed and the doctor who loved the greenery and beauty of the forest sees nothing but denuded expanses around him.     

The well-orchestrated performances by Barclay, McManus, O’Connell, McLean, Schurmann, Millard and the secondary characters provide an excellent night at the theatre.


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