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Reviews for "Uncle Vanya"

If you're interested, reviews are starting to come in for TUTA's production of Uncle Vanya. I'll be seeing it again this Friday...

Look ~ aren't you tempted to join me?

Trey Maclin as Vanya

Stacie Beth Green as Elena

Stacie Beth Green (Elena) and Jacqueline Stone (Sonya)

TUTA gets a lot out of a little in 'Vanya'
March 15, 2008

It's been 14 years since Louis Malle made his famously minimalist "Vanya on 42nd Street." Perhaps somebody should now roll some cameras into the basement of the Chopin Theatre and dub TUTA's new Chicago-style Chekhovian excursion as "Vanya on Milwaukee Avenue." Or "The Wicker Park Vanya."

But don't hold your breath -- dramatic depictions of people stuck in an existential rut aren't at the top of major studios' priority lists. But Zeljko Djukich's current voyage into Chekhovian tragicomedy is striking for its contrasts with the movie. The two might share that bare-walls aesthetic, but whereas Malle had a conceptual agenda, Djukich is the kind of director who just throws his typically loyal actors into a room and works a scene to within an inch of its life.

As its many fans well know, TUTA's great strength is the theatrical representation of intimacy. And, because we're here talking Chekhov, that intimacy is of course unable to effect any actual change in anyone's circumstances. If you see "Vanya" as a series of pointlessly intimate moments -- and you'd have a good case -- you'll love this take.

In part due to fiscal necessity, Djukich minimalizes the visuals -- reducing the design elements to their skeletal frames. He hangs his show on live connections between skilled actors. Although there's a skillfully toned performance from Andy Hager, who's far more disciplined as Astrov than I've ever seen him in the past, this "Vanya" mostly relies on its women.

The best scene of the night is the encounter between Stacie Beth Green's classy Elena and Jacqueline Stone's carefully emotional Sonya, wherein both women get a sense of their unchanging place in this hopelessly hierarchical world. In this and most other scenes, Djukich has his actors adopt a hyper-colloquial style -- it kept reminding me of a more vulnerable version of "The Gilmore Girls" -- and it's both apt and arresting.

I wouldn't claim the individual scenes are perfectly integrated. Nor is everyone perfectly cast -- Trey Maclin, who plays Vanya, is a talented actor, but he reads here as too young to fully capture the bleakness of middle-age ennui.

But while the show could use more pace, many of the two-person encounters have that rare sense of unpretentious spontaneity that always enhances Chekhov. And Djukich's unusual use of proximity and distance is fascinating.

The playing area is much deeper than the audience section. One minute the actors are right in your face and then they retreat far away -- almost as if they'd headed off down Milwaukee, without knowing they were on a diagonal street.

~ Chris Jones

Uncle Vanya

TUTA Theatre Chicago at Chopin Theatre. By Anton Chekhov. Translated by Yasen Peyankov and Peter Christensen. Dir. Zeljko Djukich. With Trey Maclin, Jacqueline Stone, Stacie Beth Green, Andy Hager, Gary Houston.


This new edition of Chekhov's paean to regret can claim multiple authors. There’s the doctor-turned-writer himself, of course, as well as Peyankov and Christensen, the team behind numerous translations of Russian plays for the now-defunct European Repertory Company. But there are also contributions from a couple of uncredited guys: In the course of the evening, Djukich’s actors perform songs by Bob Dylan and Delta bluesman Mississippi John Hurt.

Yet this isn’t a postmodern revision; instead, it’s a faithful translation of a melancholy script that always suggested music. The song choices, like certain touches in Natasha Vuchurovich Djukich’s costumes, are simply modern accents enhancing the timeless, universal aspects of Chekhov’s provincial Russian tale—no matter how much we’re disappointed by our current situation, we keep hope alive that something better is on its way.

Martin Andrew’s balsa wood–like set suggests a blown-up architectural model, mirroring Chekhov’s miniaturization of class issues (and it’s yet another example of how the Chopin basement’s limitations inspire scenic-design innovations). Djukich keeps the focus on the human relationships, priming heartbreakingly genuine performances from Maclin as put-upon Vanya and Green as the unattainable object of his affection. Chicago stage legend Houston blusters appropriately as the not-so-big-time professor, and Stone nails the fooling-herself duplicity of Vanya’s dutiful niece: She’ll just keep suppressing the rage, and hope for a reward in the next life.

~ Kris Vire


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
That would be wonderful. I will call to reserve tickets! Let's talk via email to finalize the details.

WOO HOO - I've got a hot date for Friday!
Mar. 19th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
I know Kris! And I am tempted.
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC)
Wow....how do you know Kris?

I'll be there this Friday and next (3/21 and 3/28)...and I'm working the box office Saturday the 29th (though I won't likely stay to watch that night, having been there the night before). If any of those dates work for you...it would be fun to see it together and then to go out and wax poetic about it for hours afterward. I love doing that kind of thing with you and D. Just let me know! Kisses - Jen
Mar. 19th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
I met him through a friend of a friend and then he worked at a bar I frequent. So more of a social-casual thing, but I'm excited to see him continuing to review theater and have his reviews posted on friends' blogs.

I'll look at my schedule. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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