There was a lot of intelligence on display in the Deptford Players' production of Uncle Vanya, and if it wasn't quite the revelatory histrionic experience it could have been, it was a least a quietly moving one. Dudley Stone's lean adaptation, running just under 2 hours with intermission, may have been what kept Lorree True's elegant production from fully coming to life: all of the emotional highs and lows of Chekhov's ironic masterpiece are in place in his economical text, but without the subtlety that is the hallmark of Chekhov's four major plays. The delicate interplay between the characters was lost, and despite True's smart direction and the generally good work of the fine cast, this was an Uncle Vanya that had not only been stripped to the bone, but also stripped of its heart.
The one exception was the performance of Stephanie Stone as Sonya. Stone fille (she is the daughter of Dudley) is an actress to be reckoned with, and her Sonya was one of those performances that in a first-class production filled with star actors would have become a minor legend. With just a tiny flutter of a hand, a furtive, longing glance or a mild purse of her lips, she easily filled in the blanks left open by her father's script and became the emotional core of the evening, her final scene truly heartbreaking as Sonya realizes that her ordinary dreams are shattered. Unfortunately, Stone was so good that the balance was thrown irrevocably to her side: as good as Ken Glickfeld's Vanya and Jeff Berry's Astrov were, they just couldn't compete with Stone's better-written part, while Lina Cloffe's floaty Yelena was completely blown away by her sheer force of nature.
As stated, True directed with a sure sense of Chekhovian style, and she understood that Chekhov saw his plays as comedies: there was much that was organically, laugh-out-loud funny inside the basic seriousness. She also oversaw a lovely physical production, with a soft yellow, cream and brown color palette that brought the Russian Country Estate setting to life with the understated intensity of an early Matisse painting. (Set by Meghan Cilley, costumes by Jackie Stone, lighting by Michelle Zielinsky.) It would be wonderful to see what True and company could do with a fully realized Chekhov text; for while Chekhov's love of words can seem interminably heavy (and keep a performance running longer than 3 hours), when in the right hands the beautifully wrought humanity of his work can be a soul-satisfying evening of theatre, and True has just the pair of hands to achieve that.
(Also featuring: H. Clark Kee; Lynn McCann; Thomas McCann; Carlotta Sherwood, and Jeff Topf)
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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita