Uncle Vanya: Theater Review

Uncle Vanya is a classic play by Anton Chekov that puts the tragedy of the banal front and center. The version being staged at the Guthrie is a newer adaption written by Brian Friel and the Wurtle Thrust stage offers great views from any seat in the house.

I saw Uncle Vanya on Sept. 17th, only a few days after opening night. The Guthrie estimates a run time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, but it felt much longer. Perhaps my feeling that the play dragged was a result of the subject matter. Chekov’s work creates characters and dialogue that speak to a common fear that life is awful then you die. For the characters, day-to-day activities are boring and bothersome—that is, until the beautiful Elena enters the scene and gives them all something to fixate upon.

Elena is the second wife of an aging, and now retired, professor who was once married to the sister of the titular Uncle Vanya. Despite the sister’s death many years ago, the professor is entitled to the family estate. Since the professor has never shown interest in the affairs of the estate, it had largely been left to Sonya, his daughter, and Vanya, his brother in law. The play picks up after Elena and the professor move into the country estate, and as an audience we watch as family tensions rise.

The play itself raises many interesting ideas, which I was glad to have the opportunity to consider, but most of the value I took from the experience could have similarly been gained by reading the play. The stage acting at times dragged on so much that I wasn’t sure if lines had been forgotten. Perhaps as an impact of the plot, I was left not caring especially about any of the main characters, which made it especially hard to focus as the play drew to a close. For fans of Chekov, this might be a wonderful production as this adaptation focuses on the humor. If, like myself, you are rather unfamiliar with Chekov plays, this one certainly is thought-provoking, but might not be worth the nearly three hour run time.

Uncle Vanya is running now until Oct. 26th at the Guthrie.