"Uncle Vanya" directed by Anya Saffir
Life in the world of Uncle Vanya seems very much like the world we live in now without the unlimited distractions provided through the media. The characters in Uncle Vanya add drama to their otherwise boring Russian lives by drinking Vodka, drowning in self-loathing, pursuing forbidden love, and occasionally shooting at family.
Uncle Vanya is the story of a gout-suffering, retired professor (Langston Darby) who returns to his estate with his new, gorgeous wife, Yelena (Samantha Proctor). His late ex-wife’s brother, Vanya (Enrique Arce), left in charge of the estate during the professor’s absence, as well as Astrov (Luke Ledger), the doctor that the professor has hired to treat his gout, are completely enamored with Yelena’s young and charming presence and are determined to woo her. To add to the complexity of the situation, the professor’s daughter, Sonya (Naomi Livingston), becomes infatuated by Astrov’s love for the environment and his passion for fixing it.
Atlantic Acting School’s 5th Semester Conservatory (Thirty Three Theatre Co.) blows the audience away with their specific choices when speaking and their incredibly powerful substantial silences. Every moment of this production is filled with tension and intention, keeping one alert, engaged, and confounded. Honest moments between each actor create emotional chaos: laughing characters burst into tears, sobbing characters snicker.
Video Credit: Devon Padley
Arce’s Vanya is a prime example of the dichotomy of positive versus negative emotions. With a mocking and darkly humorous exterior, Arce beautifully reveals Vanya’s inner life of despair over the death of his sister, resentment toward Darby’s Professor, and regret for wasting his youth. His undying love for Yelena is ever-present; Arce does a great job of joining hilarity with pity throughout his attempts at wooing her.
Darby’s vocal prowess and emotional availability are awe-inspiring; he weeps to his wife, Yelena, portraying the Professor as a self-conscious, death-fearing man whose real plague isn’t old age and gout, but insecurity. The stark contrast between his despair for the pain of aging and his glassy-eyed optimism during his announcement of the estate’s sale is astounding, rounding out Darby’s Professor as a character.
Ledger plays a charismatic and life-loving Astrov. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have his own intrinsic issues (this is a Chekov play after all). He is brooding and resents man’s tendency to destroy, so much so that he feels unable to love. Yet, when he’s drunk, he’s tons of fun. We see Ledger play into these two sides of Astrov so evocatively that his mood becomes contagious. The one-take wild rides of Ledger’s introspective, yet eccentric Astrov inspires one to hold themselves to the high moral standard that he holds himself, even when he does some questionable, passionate things.
"The gorgeous aesthetic coupled with excellent direction by Anya Saffir creates an immersive world, drawing the audience into the room"
Proctor has profound presence on stage. Her graceful movements and crisp, seductive voice leave the audience reassured of Astrov and Vanya’s intoxication for her Yelena. The audience loved watching her slip into girlishness to meet Livingstone’s Sonya’s personality. They excitedly converse about Astrov and laugh nervously about the fact that neither of them are happy, a beautiful scene between two newly reacquainted girlfriends helping each other find themselves and two actresses with fantastic chemistry.
The rest of the cast solidifies the world of Uncle Vanya nicely. Livingstone’s Sonya is shy and extremely caring. She breaks hearts with her vulnerability, her tears visibly heavy with the weight of her sadness and longing for love. Vanya’s mother, Maria (Ellie Womersley) is a beautifully knowledgeable woman who, despite her older age, is constantly learning and looking to the future. Maryina (Grace Procopio) and Waffles (Adam Roebling) constantly make the audience smile, either with his adorable timidity or with her loving kindness toward everyone. Yefim (Turner Morehead), whose stage time was regrettably less bountiful, was by no means bashful in presence. Morehead took the stage with head-turning confidence.
The gorgeous aesthetic coupled with excellent direction by Anya Saffir creates an immersive world, drawing the audience into the room with the characters, while the actors' incredible skill takes the audience on an emotional journey.
Uncle Vanya is playing at Atlantic Stage 2 from November 1st – November 4th! I couldn’t recommend it more.
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