L to R: Vanya (Mark Steffen), Sonya (Maria-Louisa Winslow) and Astrov (Patrick Payne)
Vanya (Mark Steffen), Sonya (maria-Louisa Winslow) and Yelena (Christa Popovich)
The Professor (Burke Holaday), Nanny (Susan Smith) and Yelena (Christa Popovich)
The Professor (Burke Holaday) and Astrov (Patrick Payne)
Jan 31-Feb 09, 2003
Chekhov would like this 'Uncle Vanya'
- By Cheryl Thornburg, Las Cruces Sun News [ Friday, Jan. 31, SUN NEWS C-3 ]
There's not a lot of action in the latest No Strings Theatre production, but there is a lot going on. The undercurrents in Anton Chekov's "Uncle Vanya" are dark and slow-moving, but they lead to an accurate portrait of life in rural Russia more than 100 years ago.
The setting is an estate run for more than 20 years by Voynitsky, also known as Uncle Vanya and his niece Sonya.
The two, along with some faithful servants, have kept the place going and turned the majority of the proceeds over to the Serebryakov, also known as the Professor, a seemingly brilliant academic who was married to Vanya's now-dead sister.
Recently retired, the professor and his beautiful young wife have moved to the estate and have totally disrupted the routine.
Life seems to revolve around them and work has been neglected. Everyone seems to have gotten lazy and Vanya has taken to drink.
Add to this the complicated love triangles (or perhaps they're quadrangles) and you have a very interesting look at life in the country.
Both Vanya and the young country doctor Astrov are smitten with Yelena, the professor's extraordinarily beautiful wife. Sonya, a sweet, but very plain young woman is madly in love with Astrov, who barely knows she exists.
Director Michael Wise has put together an amazing ensemble cast to bring to life this Chekhov classic.
Mark Steffen plays the title role of the dissolute Vanya with flair; and by the third act, when Vanya realizes he has wasted his life supporting a second-rate academic, Steffen brings passion and conviction to one of Chekhov's most famous characters.
Christa Popovich seems to have been born to play Yelena. She glides across the stage, captivating everyone both on stage and off. She has a regal presence, yet conveys a sadness, a dissatisfaction with her life in subtle looks and body language.
Patrick Payne, well-known to local theatergoers, creates yet another memorable character as Astrov, the impatient, idealistic doctor whose passion is planting trees and worrying about the future.
Today's environmentalists will find lots to like in Astrov, who decries the deforestation of Russia. Chekhov wrote this play in the 1890s and seemed to be way ahead of his time on this topic.
The rich, sometimes booming voice of Burke Holaday is perfect for the role of the professor and his arrogant speeches and emotional outbursts. His professor is not very likable, which is just what Chekhov intended.
Maria-Luisa Winslow, a new face to Las Cruces audiences, delivers an amazing performance as Sonya, She immediately captures the audience's sympathy with her sensitive portrayal of the loyal, good-hearted young woman who remains an optimist, even when life seems hopeless. Her speech to Vanya in the final act, in which she tells him that though this life will be hard, they will get their rewards in heaven, is delivered with an almost saintly compassion.
Veteran actress Susan Smith, fresh off a dynamite performance as the mother in "Broadway Bound," demonstrates that she is one of the best character actresses in the area with her portrayal of Nanny, the loving servant that everyone seems to turn to with their problems. She is a rock amidst the turmoil of other relationships in the play.
Chris Rippel also adds stability as Telegin, another faithful worker who helps run the estate. Rippel is a master at playing the peacemaker, whether he's trying to settle arguments or soothe everyone with his calming guitar music.
Though she has few lines, Naomi Sayles makes a big impression as Mariya Vasileyevna, the family matriarch, who quietly rules the household.
Rounding out the cast is Chas Ford, who plays a minor role as a workman.
Costume designer Glenn Breed has outdone himself on this show -- from Vanya's brightly colored, checkered country suit to Yelena's exquisite richly ornamented gowns to Sonya's more subdued attire, he has recreated the era while also enhancing each character's role in the play.
David Mamet's adaptation of the play is true to the original, updating just enough language to ease the way for contemporary audiences.
Scenic and lighting designer for the production is Peter Herman, props designer is Barbara Alford, sound designer is Michael Wise and the stage manager is Charley Davis.
The play is slightly more than three hours long including an intermission, so be prepared for a slow but satisfying theater experience.
No seating plan has been posted.