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Drunkle Vanya
My darling, the blood of a mermaid runs in your veins.— Vanya
drunk vanya
Cast members mingling with audience
Three Day Hangover has pitched camp at Russian Samovar's Tolstoy Lounge with their improvisational comedy Drunkle Vanya. This louche version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya is a totally immersive theatrical experience that invites theatergoers to relish both the play and some vodka.

No need to retell the story of Uncle Vanya, except to say that the Russian depressives who populate the play obsess over lost youth, wasted lives, and unrequited love. In their boozy spin of Vanya large swaths of the original play have been cut; and the old nurse Marina and Vonya's mother Mariya have been excised from the dramatis personae.

You'll still hear Chekhov's language — not in its full poetic strength but as a hybrid theatrical language comprised of Chekhovian resonances, Americanisms, and popular culture references (think Instagram, Kindle Fire, and the Gettysburg Address).

What keeps the show afloat are its thespian tipplers. The free-wheeling six-member troupe ingeniously capture the Chekhovian mood of doom and gloom and infuse it into the motley characters. No performer hogs the spotlight here but all manage to hold their own.

Joel Rainwater, in the titular role, is the epitome of mediocrity and middle-age ennui. Amanda Sykes is rightly bewitching as the young and beautiful wife of The Professor. Christopher Tocco, as Astrov, blends idealism and cynicism in equal measure. Leah Walsh inhabits the plain Sonya with genuine sincerity. Sean Tarrant projects the necessary pompous air and self-absorption as the aging Professor. Josh Sauerman rounds out the cast with a pitch-perfectperformance as Wafflesthe lovable free-loader.

Perhaps the real reason Drunkle Vanya works is that its artists never over-reach themselves, except perhaps when they reach for a bottle of Smirnoff Ice on the top shelf. They may not be bent in making great art but they succeed in underscoring the comic tone in the classic as they irreverently impersonate Chekhov's dipsomaniacs.

Having seen Three Day Hangover's Drunk Shakespeare two years ago I had an inkling of what to expect with Drunkle Vanya. But have their own aesthetic so choosing which to see boils down to this: If you really like your vodka and find the Russian temperament irresistible, Drunkle Vanya is the one for you.

. By the bye, you get to customize your Drunkle Vanya experience when you buy your ticket. Here's the three options, which cleverly mirror the old class structure still lingering in Russia in Chekhov's day: Aristocracy (infused vodka, fine food); Bourgeoisie (shot and a nibble); or Proletariat (you get a shot). If you have deep pockets, by all means, go for the Aristocracy as the menu offers Russian delicacies and brews like "Sonya's Famous Pirogies" and the "House-infused vodka." But if you don't want to break your wallet, try the more budget-minded Bourgeoisie or Proletariat. You won't feel like a Tsar as you watch the proceedings, but you'll be just as close to the action as those who go with the higher-priced tickets.

What about the bar games that are partof the immersiveexperience? They're fun but I found simply listening to the performers ad lib lines during pivotal scenes far more intriguing. Case in point: Following The Professor and Yelena's departure at the end of the show, Vanya breaks down in tears, prompting Sonya to remark, "Oh, Vanya, you are crying just like they taught us in drama school." Such regular funny metatheatrical spins can move you to tears and laughter at once.

There's nothing hi-brow about this production. However, it will not only whet your whistle but will re-whet your appetite for Chekhov.

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Drunkle Vanya, based on Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya
Adapted and directed by Lori Wolter Hudson
Cast: Joel Rainwater (Vanya), Amanda Sykes (Yelena), Christopher Tocco (Astrov), Leah Walsh (Sonya), Sean Tarrant (The Professor), Josh Sauerman (Waffles)
Costumes: Caitlin Cisek
Stage Manager: Brooke Bell
Upstairs at the Russian Samovar, Tolstoy Lounge, at 256 West 52nd Street. 866-811-4111 or
Tickets: $29 through $149.
From 11/10/17; opening 2/3/17; closing 4/15/17.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm.
Running time: 1 hour; 45 minutes, including intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/26/17

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