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Weathervane stages classic drama

1/16/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

‘Uncle Vanya’ ‘excellent production’

Amanda Larkin (Yelena), at left, and Jen Klika (Sonya) star in Weathervane Playhouse’s production of “Uncle Vanya.”
Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse
MERRIMAN VALLEY — “Uncle Vanya,” which is playing in Weathervane Playhouse’s Dietz Theater through Jan. 25, comes to us through several layers of writers.

Anton Chekhov wrote the play. Vlada Chernomordik translated the script from Russian to English. David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, adapted the script for contemporary theater needs.

Chekhov earned a place on any list of the world’s great playwrights with “Uncle Vanya,” “The Seagull,” “Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard.” Interestingly, he also is recognized in Russian literary history for his short stories, as well as for his plays.

“Uncle Vanya” takes place in Russia in 1899 at the crumbling estate of a retired professor, Serebryakov (Dale Franks), and his beautiful young wife, Yelena (Amanda Larkin). The estate originally belonged to his first wife, who is now deceased. The married couple has returned to the estate because the professor’s health has begun to decline. Upon their return, the professor reconnects with the extended family members who manage his estate: Mariya (Barbara Trotter), the mother of his first wife; Sonya (Jen Klika), his daughter by his first marriage; and Vanya (Alex Cikra), who is Mariya’s son.

When Serebryakov is out of earshot, Vanya will comment on the poor quality of the professor’s research and that he has written nothing original.

Yelena is incapable of making a meaningful life for herself and her husband. She complains of being bored by her life on the estate. When Sonya provides a list of things she might do to add meaning to her life, she rejects the list, claiming everything is boring.

“Uncle Vanya” is a study of self-absorption and self-indulgence. That old ennui can wreck a Russian family.

The one bright spot that comes into their lives is Astrov (Jim Fippin), a medical doctor. He, too, suffers from the malaise of boredom, which manifests itself in distaste for his medical practice.

When Sonya falls in love with Astrov, her love is unrequited. Astrov isn’t aware that the plain woman cares for him. He, too, suffers from self-absorption.

Yelena asks Astrov if he has any affection for Sonya. Yelena and Astrov discover, during this discussion, their mutual affection. He asks her to go away with him. She rejects him, too scared to take a risk that might bring her happiness.

The story is set in an era before radio and television. So, the family living on a remote estate has few outside influences. The members of the family seem to rely on each other and vodka for any stimulation. Yet, they do little but complain to each other about the starkness of their lives.

“Uncle Vanya” and other plays by Chekhov have been described as “psychological realism.” I couldn’t help but think of how much these people could improve their lives with the help of a good psychiatrist.

Chekhov is remembered, in part, for his advice to beginning playwrights: “If a gun is hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.” Saturday night, Jan. 11, when I saw the play, the pistol didn’t fire on cue. This underscored the lack of vigor and drive in these characters.

Sexual frustration and sexual tension lie just beneath the surface of the characters. Two of the men make passes at Yelena. Those men are so inept that I suspect they would have run away if she had said, “Yes.”

This is an excellent cast. Some of the performers must be singled out for their moving work. 

Cikra makes Vanya explosive and lazy. The emotional variety Cikra brings to this role is spellbinding.

Fippin shows his character, Astrov, slowly being sucked into the malaise that holds captive everyone who lives on the estate. He doesn’t have the strength to leave.

Klika struggles as Sonya to make something of her life besides managing the estate. Klika does an excellent job of showing how she is drawn into the vortex surrounding Astrov.

Trotter demonstrates how the malaise of the estate can make one soul weary. She sits and argues for the status quo.

Director Bob Belfance helped this outstanding cast bring this Russian drama to life. This is an excellent production of a difficult play. 

Don’t go to the theater expecting action. These characters seem paralyzed into inaction. Their lives seem stripped of those qualities that give people the power to make changes in their lives.

For ticket information, call 330-836-2626.  Be aware the Dietz Theater seats only about 50 people and some performances are sold out.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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