An Offbeat, Yet Entertaining Version of Checkov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ at Carnegie Stage 

By Bob Hoover

Somewhere in the Russian countryside, a family has gathered at its estate to figure out its future. Its most esteemed member, Serebryakov, has lost his professorship while his young and attractive wife, Yelena, bored by the country, wanders around aimlessly.

The professor’s daughter, Sonya, and brother Vanya, labor to keep the estate running to fund the unemployed academic and his mother-in-law. 

An aging nanny and poor neighbor called Waffles round out the household.

Astrov, the local doctor, is a regular visitor and friend of Vanya’s. The pair are the only educated men in the region, and they enjoy their sarcastic conversations. They’re also interested in Yelena, the one bright spot in their dull lives.

It’s Anton Chekhov at his most basic, a commonplace situation that hides the despair and hopelessness underneath. His characters desire a better life, but the reality of late 19th-century Russia denies their desires. 

Uncle Vanya chronicles the seasons of this unhappy family, where hardly anything happens until it finally does. But it’s Chekhov, so nothing really changes in these lives.

Throughline Theatre Company takes on Uncle Vanya but with a twist that moves Chekhov’s Russia to something resembling the American West of John Ford movies. The culprit is playwright Annie Baker who adapted the play in ways that don’t seem sensible. 

Try as I might, I could find very little comparison between the peasant-dominated society of czarist Russia with the OK Corral and its world of small independent landowners. Maybe if Marshal Dillonofsky showed up, I could see it.

Dressed in what might pass for Western outfits, the Throughline company presented an offbeat but entertaining version of Uncle Vanya at its small stage in Carnegie. While Annie Baker’s adaptation shrinks the slow-paced original into two frantic acts, losing Chekhov’s subtle revealing of the nature of his characters in the process, the essential nature of the play survives.

At the center is Marisa Postava as Sonya and Zoe Abuyuan as Yelena. The two become close over the desperate Sonya’s love for the indifferent Astrov, who has his eye on Yelena. Strikingly dressed by costumer Alex Righetti, Abuyuan dominates the stage. Postava, who insists she’s “not pretty,” captures Sonya’s acceptance of her lot in life “to work.”

The central male characters – Michael McBurney as Vanya and Maher S. Hogue as Astrov – are not as well suited to their roles as Sonya and Yelena. Hogue is understated, while McBurney’s anger at his freeloading brother goes over the top.

Rick Dutrow plays the mediocre professor with the proper air of pomposity and indifference to his family’s plight. Hazel Carr LeroyHarry HawkinsTerri Lynn McDermitt-Davis, and Noah J. Welter round out the cast.

Director J. Cody Spellman had to deal with Baker’s oddball script, even tossing in a line-dancing number to open the second act. The audience enjoyed it, although Stanislavski might have had a problem with it.


Throughline Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya runs through July 1 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St. in Carnegie.

Tickets at: http://www.throughlinetheatre.org

Categories: Reviews

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