Theatre Mirror Reviews -"Uncle Vanya"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth

"Uncle Vanya"

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  Last winter, when Apollinaire Theatre Company presented its unconventional production of Craig Lucas’ adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, “Uncle Vanya,” it garnered accolades and award nominations. Like last year, this season’s acclaimed revival has been extended to accommodate admiring audiences.  That’s probably because of Artistic Director-Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ standard of dramatic excellence and theatric innovation. Apollinaire successfully incorporates its “environmentally staged” technique of  theatergoers’ walking to nearby locations within the same venue for each act, like its successful outdoor summer productions at Chelsea’s Mary O’Malley Park.

  The four-act play, set in four separate rooms, adorned with Russian art and period furniture, is even more intimate this time. Like last year, audiences are limited to 30 per performance, seated in the first two rows of the third-floor theater in the first act, then outlining the perimeter of three, second-floor rooms for the next three acts.

  Returning musician-actor Mike Handelman establishes the play’s homespun Russian atmosphere. As a Russian workman and strolling guitarist, Handelman guides theatergoers between acts to locations within the countryside Russian estate.

  As actors enter each room, they stand, weep, brood, rant, rave, kiss, imbibe wine and vodka, and fire a pistol near theatergoers, vividly sweeping them back to the late 1800s. Emily Ledger’s sound effects, especially during a storm brewing, inside and outside the house, and Jacques‘ lighting; Toni B. Elliott’s handsome period costumes, and Nathan Lee’s superlative sets punctuate these actors‘ outstanding performances.

  Diego Arciniegas as Uncle Vanya is such a fiery sparkplug, he ignites the entire production, with his explosive, angry, frustrated outbursts and painful unrequited love for his beautiful sister-in-law, Elena. Newcomers Jack Schultz as Vanya’s brother-in-law, the complaining, aging, fading celebrity scholar, Professor Serebriakov,  and pretty Kate Paulsen as Elena, are fine additions.

  Reprising their roles with intense passion are Erin Eva Butcher as Sonya,  Vanya’s pragmatic niece and the pompous professor’s “plain” daughter; Ann Carpenter, as the estate’s nurturing, loving nanny and  Ronald Nelson Lacey as handsome, beleaguered, overworked Doctor Astrov, the object of Sonya’s six-year, unrequited, silent infatuation. Astrov laments he can’t feel love, but admires beauty. A fervent environmentalist battling future deforestation while caring for the countryside’s sick and feeble, he’s mesmerized by Elena. 

  Ann Marie Shea is also outstanding as Vanya’s mother, who enjoys reading articles and fawns over her has-been professor son-in-law, while ignoring Vanya; and Kevin Fennessy as “waffle-faced” workman, Ilya Telegin, adds local color here.

  Sonya and Vanya have managed the estate for years, struggling to finance the professor’s gloried,extravagant lifestyle in the city. Plagued with gout, rheumatism, and fading popularity, the professor and beautiful, bored Elena have everyone fluttering about, pampering them. 

  Meanwhile, Vanya’s anger, jealousy and frustration mounts, as his, Sonya’s and the doctor’s simmering romances are repulsed and squelched. 

  When the professor announces he wants to sell his dead wife’s (Vanya’s sister and Sonya’s mother) estate and invest the money instead, leaving Vanya, Sonya and Vanya’s mother homeless and without any income, Vanya explodes with violence. 

  In the end, Sonya and Vanya are doomed to lovelessness and hopelessness, their lives continuing as usual.

  Apollinaire’s “Uncle Vanya” is a brilliant theatrical coup that’s a must for all theatergoers. 

  During the 10-minute intermission and/or post-show reception, check out the works of Russian-Ukranian artists Tatiana Yanovskaya-Sink, Vladimir Volosov, Georgy Lapchinsky and Russian honored artist Alexander Vetrov in the third-floor gallery and second-floor rooms.

  BOX INFO: Four-act, two-hour classic play by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Craig Lucas, extended by popular demand to Nov. 11, appearing with Apollinaire Theatre Company: Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m. at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea. Seating limited to 30 per performance. Tickets are $35. Call 617-887-2336 or visit

"Uncle Vanya" (EXTENDED till 11 november)
@ Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet Street, CHELSEA MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide