Theatre Review: Uncle Vanya

Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre makes a turn-of-the-century Russian play feel timeless in its season five opener

Jacob Richmond and Amanda Lisman in Uncle Vanya.

Jacob Richmond and Amanda Lisman in Uncle Vanya.

Wasted lives and unrequited love take centre stage in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s fifth season opener, Anton Chekhov’s turn-of-the-century classic Uncle Vanya.

Written more than 100 years ago (it made its debut in 1899 at the Moscow Art Theatre), Uncle Vanya is set in late 19th century Russia, and tells the story of one dysfunctional family, whose members are resentful of their monotonous provincial existence.

As one of Chekhov’s great plays, Uncle Vanya has cemented its place in history, but has a contemporary feel, as though the play and its subject matter are just as relevant today. Director Brian Richmond captures that timeless quality and manages to make Uncle Vanya feel both historical and current at the same time.

Billed as a tragicomedy, Uncle Vanya is at times depressing and sleepy in Act 1, but is contrasted by drunken shenanigans and the foolish delight of budding love in Act 2, and a dramatic climax in Act 3 —  But be warned, there is no happy ending in Act 4.

Instead of enjoying their simple lives in the country, each family member equally bemoans their boring provincial existence. No one is happy with their current state: they are either old and decrepit, idle, or wasting their youth.

The estate has fallen into disrepair, they can’t make enough money to support themselves and they have settled for a state of hopelessness, mourning what could have been instead of focusing on the potential the future holds.

The arrival of pompous professor Alexandr Serebyakov (played by Chris Britton of Good Will Hunting) and his wife Yelena throws a wrench into daily life at his country estate, which is managed by his daughter Sonja and her melancholy Uncle Vanya (Duncan Ollerenshaw, Mr. Toole of Hell on Wheels), who is the brother of the professor’s first wife, now deceased. Ollerenshaw manages to bring a lightness to his performance which offsets the character’s heavy heart.

A family friend, the country doctor Astrov, pays a visit to the estate to treat the professor’s longstanding problem with gout, but the professor refuses to see him.

Jacob Richmond is outstandingly cast as the eccentric Dr. Astrov, offering both bleak introspection and comedic relief in his role. Richmond is able to capture the character’s dreary outlook and numbness, all while portraying a reckless abandon that brings a lot of laughter to the production. Astrov’s monologue about his love of the forest is one of the few inspirational and hopeful moments in the production.

Casey Austin is a stand out as the professor’s daughter Sonja, a character who is aware of her homeliness, but desperate to have her love for Astrov reciprocated. Austin’s mannerisms bring out Sonja’s anxious awkwardness, while managing to keep the character likeable. She’s meek and mild mannered, but brave enough to want to know the truth behind Dr Astrov’s feelings for her.

Brian Linds as Telyegin, a dependent of the family with pockmarked skin, also adds some comedy to the mix. His is one of the few characters to keep a mostly-positive outlook on life, aside from Naomi Simpson as Serebryakov’s mother-in-law, Marina, who offers comfort and herbal tea to those who need consoling.

Amanda Lisman portrayed a poised elegance as Serebyakov’s much younger second wife Yelena. At times closed off and at times daring, Lisman captures Yelena’s despair at being trapped in a loveless marriage.

The open concept set by Nathan Brown features delicate panels of birch trees placed sporadically upstage, which work wonderfully as the estate’s forested grounds, while fine furniture placed down stage brings the audience in to the provincial estate’s living quarters.

The costumes, also by Brown, work wonderfully helping to bring the audience into 19th century rural Russia.

Lighting by Giles Hogya authentically portrays the lustrous glow of light falling between the birch trees on the expansive estate.

Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre is part of the cultural ecology of Victoria, and as an audience, we are lucky to have this caliber of entertainment in our city. Get out and support their endeavours by purchasing a ticket to their season opener. M

 

 

 

 

Uncle Vanya

Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre

June 6-16, Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm,

Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm

At the McPherson Playhouse

Tickets at rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121

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