Information, reviews, and miscellaneous shorts focusing on professional, nonprofit theater—from a Southeast Minnesota perspective.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Commonweal Presents Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya

Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya opened last weekend at the Commonweal Theatre Company in Lansboro, marking the company’s first production of Chekhov.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860 - 1904) lived in a transitional Russia, between the abolition of serfdom and the upheaval of the revolution to come. His major plays portray a Russia caught between centuries of tradition and a modern, egalitarian Russia, a transition that seems to leave both the peasants and the aristocracy displaced and disconcerted. While Chekhov treats his falling aristocratic characters with tenderness, their own foolishness serves to condemn the system that maintained their ancestors’ leisure luxuries.

Chekhov does not romanticize the past, nor does he extol the future with its “picture of gradual and unquestionable degeneration.” Nor does Chekhov romanticize the rural estate he portrays in Uncle Vanya. The beautiful summer countryside gives way to the cold and grey, and the professor knows that he will not be able to suffer the tedium of the country during the fast approaching winter.

The professor, retired, portentous and idle, returns to his estate with his beautiful young wife, Yelena. For many years, the professor’s daughter, Sonya, and her Uncle Vanya have sent the farm’s proceeds to the professor, receiving only a small salary in return.

Both Vanya and the local doctor, Astrov, fall in love with Yelena, Sonya is in love with Astrov, and Vanya gets so fed up with the professor he decides to take drastic action.

“All the characters want love,” observed the play’s director, Lisa Weaver. “And they are all so rich and complex. I’m also impressed by the many, still relevant ideas in the play about the environment, men’s and women’s roles in society, and what it means to be a success.”

Chekhov became the beloved principle dramatist for Stanislavsky’s experimental Moscow Art Theatre which premiered in 1898 and included Chekhov’s The Seagull in their inaugural season. His plays have been have been performed continually ever since and have had a profound influence on theater around the globe.

Director Lisa Weaver is a Commonweal Resident Company Member. She has also directed When We Dead Awaken, Lonely Planet and the world premiere of Marguerite Bonet.

The cast features Resident Company Members Hal Cropp, Amanda Davis, Eric Knutson and Jill Underwood as Vanya, Yelena, Astrov and Sonya, respectively.

Twin Cities-based actors Lavina Erickson and Stephen Houtz make their Commonweal debuts as Sonya’s nurse, Marina, and the professor Serebryakov. Rounding out the cast are Gail Fraser as the professor’s mother, Mariya and Milton Papageorge as Sonya’s godfather, Telyegin.

The show is designed by St. Mary’s University’s Kit Mayer (set) and Luther College’s Lisa Lantz (costume), with lighting by Jason Underferth, properties by recent Viterbo graduate, Troy Iverson, and sound by “Over the Back Fence” Artistic Director Stela Burdt.

Uncle Vanya plays in repertory with Wait Until Dark through November.

Visit the Commonweal for schedules and tickets: Commonweal Theatre

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