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Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet

Why does a woman have to be beautiful to be loved? — Sonya (Uncle Vanya)
Eric Tucker and Zuzanna Szadkowski (Photo: Ashley Ganett)
Full of regrets and remorse, the love-deprived characters in Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya may not seem at first to have much in common with the high hopes and impassioned motivations of (at least) the title characters in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet . But that hasn't stopped the always adventurous Bedlam Theatre Company from seeking out a correlation between the two and creating a mash-up in which the plots and characters of both are revealed in a production that may be considered as either curiously confounding or eminently diverting.

While many more people will come prepared to recognize the agonies and ecstasies experienced by the Bard's star-crossed lovers, I suspect fewer are likely to be familiar with Chekhov's collection of melancholy Russians, all of whom seem destined to live the remainder of their lives without the one they love.

So how do the resourceful Bedlam-ites pull off this proposition/pretension? With some difficulty, but also within a craftily and continually repurposed space.

Five doubling actors make their transitions — from one character to another, from prose to poetry, from one era to another— with surprising ease and ingenuity. More importantly and to our delight, no character in either play is given short shrift, even as their fortunes appear to invite as much invention as intervention.

Costume design is essentially contemporary except for the occasional surprise. The performance is given in the round, within a space that is as barren or as impressively cluttered as the scene dictates: four barren birches, a samovar here, bottles of vodka there, a water cooler, a few small chairs and tables on demand, and a transistor radio hanging from a branch. From that you may or may not surmise that it is mother Russia that enables the children of Verona to come forth. The ensemble does it all and with a notable flair for efficiency and expediency.

We only have to sit back and marvel at how effortlessly we are being drawn into the co-existing dramas. Their most tragic aspects erupt into the most incongruous bursts of comedy, under the direction of ensemble member Eric Tucker. Spoiler alert: Vanya shoots Tybalt. But this is neither a parody nor a patronizing view of these two great plays but rather invests a bit of wit and whimsy into each and into each an equal measure of pain and sorrow).

It makes sense that the playbill credits ensemble members Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Randolph Curtis Rand and Zuzanna Szadkowski but not the characters they portray. What makes this a very unusual presentation is how the various roles and situations in both plays are essentially refitted and refined to compliment and support the Bedlam's purpose if not its pretension. It's done with such joyous abandon that I doubt you will care.

Without singling out a performer, on-stage musician John Coyne adds considerably to the amiable atmospherics. Music that includes pop songs, as well as some very funny dance interludes (not being consigned to a choreographer) adds additional layers.

Apparently the current text is a mash-up of an adaptation of Uncle Vanya by Kimberly Pau (originally intended to be played in repertory with the traditional Romeo and Juliet ). What results can be viewed as either a bit of gratuitously deployed playtime or simply a delightful lark for our amusement.

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Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet : Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare; Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
Adaptation by Kimberly Pau)
Directed by Eric Tucker
Cast: Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Randolph Curtis Rand, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Eric Tucker
Set Design: John McDermott
Lighting Design: Les Dickert
Costume Design: Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Sound Design: Karin Graybash
Voice & Text Coach: Gigi Buffington
Production Stage Manager: Violetta Picayo
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Bedlam at Mezzanine Theatre of A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 W. 53rd St.
From 09/14/18 Opened 09/25/18 Ends 10/25/28
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/22/18

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