note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
They strut and fret about their boredom, lost youth and opportunities in Apollinaire Theatre’s intimate production of Anton Chekhov’s celebrated play, “Uncle Vanya”. Renowned playwright Craig Lucas has adapted this production, making it more stirring and relevant.
Although the play originally premiered at the Moscow Art Theater in 1899 and was published in 1897, it’s a masterpiece because of its timeless characters, circumstances and themes of unrequited love and lost purpose for living. It’s also Chekhov’s ambitious revision of his earlier play, “The Wood Demon,” The mores of the late 1800s may appear dated, but human nature never changes.
Ratcheting up “Uncle Vanya” even further, Apollinaire Artistic Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has staged the four-act play in four separate rooms or settings, lining up the audience (limited to 30 people per show), in single- or double-filed seats along three sides of each room’s perimeter, thus giving theatergoers a bird’s-eye view of the action. Mike Handelman, a soft-spoken, strumming guitarist, who doubles as a workman, guides the audience to each site. The first act, which runs 25 minutes long, takes place in the third-floor theater; the second act, which is 35 minutes, is held in a newly-painted, decorated second-floor room, followed by intermission in the theater gallery. The 30-minute third act is set in another tastefully-decorated, intimate room on the second floor, and the play ends with a 25-minute Act IV in yet another second-floor period room.
This “environmentally staged” technique, which Apollinaire has successfully incorporated in its summer outdoor productions at Mary O’Malley Park in Chelsea, obviously works. Although “Uncle Vanya,” was scheduled to close Jan. 15, Apollinaire has added four performances, extending it through Jan. 22.
The characters are frustrated. Aging, fading scholar, Professor Serebriakov (Bill Salem) and his beautiful, young second wife of 10 years, Elena (Marissa Rae Roberts) have returned to the family estate he inherited through his late first wife. The pompous professor’s “plain” daughter, Sonya (Erin Eva Butcher) and brooding brother-in-law, Vanya, (John Kuntz) have managed the estate during the professor’s gloried life in the city, financing his extravagant lifestyle. Aging and plagued with gout and rheumatism, the professor and Elena returned to the country estate to live, upsetting everyone’s daily routine.
The ailing, complaining professor is placated only by longtime, patient and kindly Nanny (Ann Carpenter), who also soothes handsome, overworked Doctor Astrov, (Ronald Nelson Lacey), who cannot feel love and wants to save the environment. He laments the Russians have destroyed local forests and water supplies. Astrov’s infatuated with Elena’s beauty and unaware that Sonya loves him - nor does he care. Elena is intrigued with the doctor, whom she calls gifted, but she pleads for Sonya instead.
And poor overworked, underappreciated Vanya is madly in love with Elena, who is repulsed by his advances. The play comes to a stirring climax when the professor, who has upset the peaceful ennui of the estate, announces he’ll sell the place and invest the money, leaving Vanya, Sonya and Vanya’s mother, Maria (Ann Marie Shea) no place to go and without income. The professor’s pronouncement explodes in his face, in riveting scenes with Vanya. The end finds Sonya and Vanya doomed to lovelessness, hopelessness, their lives continuing as usual.
Besides this outstanding cast’s sterling performances, (rounded out by Kevin Fennessy as downtrodden worker, Telegin,) “Uncle Vanya” boasts designer Toni B. Elliott’s handsome period costumes; and designer Nathan Lee and crew have painstakingly painted and decorated each room, simulating a deteriorating, formerly elegant Russian country estate.
During the 10-minute intermission and/or post-show reception, check out the artwork in the gallery and in the second-floor rooms. Alexander Vetrov’s finely etched, soft-hued works in the gallery are mesmerizing proof of his special status as Honored Artist of Russia of 2002. Former Ukranian Tatiana Yanovskaya-Sink, Russian painter Vladimir Volosov and award-winning Georgy Lapchinsky’s works are also laudable. The artists’ works, which are on sale, are currently handled by From Russia With Art Gallery, 1977 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, which is planning an exhibition next month in Newton. For more information, visit www.fromrussiawithart.org or call 617-354-2930. To purchase works from the Apollinaire gallery, (which benefits the theater), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-887-2336.
BOX INFO: Play by Anton Chekhov, adapted by playwright Craig Lucas,starring John Kuntz, directed by Apollinaire Theater Company Artistic Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques, appearing through Jan. 22 (extended by popular demand) at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea. Seating limited to 30 per performance. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.; Jan. 19-21 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. Tickets: $30. Call 617-887-2336 or visit www.apollinairetheatre.com. Post-show receptions after every performance, in the gallery.