Monday, October 19, 2015


Czarist Russia in the last part of the 19th Century predates the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of Bolsheviks and the establishment of the USSR.  Not unlike the issues that challenge us in the 21st Century, the elite are in power and times are changing. Vanya (excellent Ayre Gross), uncle to  Sonya (Shannon Lee Clair), the daughter of Serebrakov (steadfast Harry Groener) and Vera (now deceased) has managed the estate and farm that Serebrakov  (now remarried to the fetching Yelena (yummy Rebecca Mozo) and Vera have established.  The tangled web of who loves whom and (like the Cherry Orchard?) what shall become of the estate emerges.   Though I am not a Chekov scholar by any stretch of the imagination, my recollection of every play of his I’ve ever seen or directed or acted in, there’s angst and trouble brewing.  The future, if there is one, is bleak.  The message, however, is that we must endure.

By chance I paged by a TV sitcom, “Ellen” while stalling the writing this review.  There, twenty years ago is love sick Ayre Gross as series regular Adam Green, pining away for a woman that Ellen has fixed him up with, only for him to be rejected. 
Fast forward to 2015 and then backwards again more than a century to Chekov’s Russia.  There’s Ayre again… pining away for his youth and what might have been. This new translation of Uncle Vanya is streamlined compared to other translations I’ve heard.  There is a modern click track that keeps the action moving (thanks to director Robin Larsen’s smooth hand) and the language, though still sounding like Chekov, is less stilted and more accessible.  The year is 1898, at the sixty four room mansion on the estate where Vanya,  at ‘the age of 47 years’   pines away for the much younger and lovely Yelena, wife of The Professor. As Serebryakov, Groener carries the feeling of the Russian aristocracy on both shoulders and realizes that he is much too old for his trophy wife who turns the heads of every other male on the stage.  Vanya laments in soliloquy not sweeping Yelena off her feet years ago when she was fourteen and was only twentyseven.

As in many of  Chekov’s plays, change is inevitable.  Folks are coming and going, hearts are breaking; love is unrequited. Sonya loves, Astrov, the Doctor (Andrew Borba). Astrov yearns for Yelena and Marina (Dawn Didawick) wishes that he would notice her.  Age is taking its toll and change is unavoidable.  Sadness and angst prevail.   Annie Baker’s adaptation of a new translation of the play from the original Russian by Margarita Shalina simply works. Works beautifully.  This gives director Larsen and her Antaeus actors (there are two separate but equal casts) room to move.  Flowing text and crusty angst create an odd feeling of cognitive dissonance with the essence of 19th Century Russia and a correlation to today’s social situation, including Astrov’s intense interest in saving the trees.

Kind and philosophical Mimi Cozzens as Maria adds texture as this cast moves as an ensemble, with only occasional nibbles at the scenery.  With such angst abounding, it’s permitted.

The tiny Antaeus space on Lankershim has been slightly expanded to accommodate interiors and exteriors of the estate while Waffles (Excellent Clay Wilcox on the mandola) sings interstitials with Yefim (Paul Baird) on accordion.  All together it’s what I believe Mr. Chekov would applaud heartily.   I certainly do and encourage you to get to Antaeus in this, their last season on Lankershim.  Broadway here they come!! (In Glendale!! in the later part of 2016)

UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekov
Adapted by Annie Baker
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood CA, 91601
(1½ bocks south of Magnolia)
Through December 8, 2015
Tickets and Information:
(818) 506-1983 or


No comments:

Post a Comment