Saturday, September 26, 2015

Uncle Vanya

Christina Schiesari as Elena and Baki Tezcan as Vanya
perform in the Art Theater of Davis production of
“Uncle Vanya,” running through Sunday. Courtesy photo
The sweltering heat of the valley summer should put anybody in the proper mood to see Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” now at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater, presented by the Art Theater of Davis. The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m.

This is a new translation by award-winning translator Adam Siegel and Timothy Nutter and directed by Nutter, who explains that the script “follows a script based on the original, translated and adapted into American English. We do our best to preserve the spirit and meaning of the Russian text, while also creating a performance that is our own and will work theatrically for actor and audiences of today.”

Professor Alexander Serebryakov (Sean O’Brien) has moved from St. Petersburg, with his much-younger wife Yelena (Christina Schiesari) to the family country estate run by Ivan Petrovitch Voinitsky — Vanya (Baki Tezcan), his brother-in-law, and Sonya (Jenna Templeton), Serebryakov’s daughter from a previous marriage. He proposes to sell the land and live off the proceeds, a suggestion that upsets Vanya so much that ultimately things are left as they are.

Add to the mix Mixail Lvovich Astrov, a country doctor (Matt Urban), Illya Illyich Telyegin (Corey Shake), an impoverished landowner who lives on the estate as a dependent of the family. He is nicknamed “Waffles” because of his pockmarked skin.

And then there is Vanya’s elderly mother, Mariya Vasilyevna Voinitskya (Gail Finney), and Marina (Lisa Halko), an old nurse.

Vanya is infatuated with Yelena. Sonya is in love with Dr. Astrov. Both infatuations are unrequited, and even Yelena’s flirtation with Astrov ends abruptly due to her sense that security with the professor outweighs dangerous passion.

The weather is oppressively hot and everyone is bored, especially Yelena. But each of the characters is unhappy in his or her own way. Tempers flare and passions are briefly kindled, there are discourses on the absurdity of it all and it makes for an unsettling situation.

Chekhov plays are wordy and so they rely on a strong delivery by the actors. While it was easy to see that each of the actors in this production is excellent, there were projection problems. I missed most of the dialog by Serebryakov (O’Brien), for example, though his partner in many of the discussions, Vanya (Tezcan) was easily understood.

Jenna Templeton as Sofya gave perhaps the strongest performance of all, though Tezcan also was outstanding, as was Christina Schiesari as Yelena, around whom much of the action of the play revolves.

The set, designed by Nutter, begins modestly, with a table and a few chairs on an otherwise empty stage, but it grows in complexity with each of the four scenes as it acquires walls and additional furniture as well as homey touches such as floral arrangements by Donna Nevraumont.

Art Theater of Davis is the little engine that could. They are small, they are dedicated to performing theatrical works that one is not likely to see elsewhere, and they continue to present quality work, with increasing audiences each time.

One hopes that they will receive the audience support that will keep them around for a long time.

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