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A CurtainUp Review
By David Lohrey
The Cocteau production succeeds largely due to the sure hand of its veteran director, who not only knows her actors and thus has cast both surprisingly and well, but who makes masterful use of the Cocteau's narrow stage. Ms Adamson's lighting design is worth the price of admission. She creates an enchantingly magical world of dark shadows cut by shards of light. It is as though 20th century expressionism were intruding on an impressionistic world. Beautiful and intelligent, this lighting design captures the bold work of this company at its best.
Harris Berlinsky (Vanya) is a highly mannered actor. At times, and in some roles, he appears altogether too quirky for his own good. He is not an obvious choice for this role, and age is not the only issue. Here his oddities do not distract but rather enhance his performance, largely because Uncle Vanya himself is an obnoxious character, however loveable we - the audience - may find him. Berlinsky is not an especially attractive actor, but neither is Vanya, so when Yelena pushes him away, we understand both his pain and her revulsion. Berlinsky delivers the finest performance of the last few seasons and in the end triumphs as the neurotic who deserves compassion.
Craig Smith as Astrov rises to the occasion again, playing a much younger man with verve. Smith has tremendous physical energy and a compelling intelligence, so it really is no surprise that he can pull off this part. We can readily understand why both Yelena (Elise Stone) and Sonya (Amanda Jones) have convinced themselves they can't live without him. Ms Stone's voice alone could awaken the dead, so it takes very little strain to understand why her presence and that of her neurotic, demanding husband have turned the household upside down. If only people were attracted to their proper mates. Vanya is pitiful around Yelena, but so is Sonya around Astrov. Ms Jones as ever conveys true, real convictions. She is an usually sincere actress. Her innocence and sweetness are very touching and work well to add depth to this role.
There is no disappointing performance, no misstep in this production. Klingelhoefer's simple set does the trick, as do the more than competent costumes designed by Margaret McKowen. If anything, the costumes could be less and do less, but that's a small point. Given the fine performances, who cares? It's not easy for a little theatre to work in the shadow of the big boys (like the high profile production from London currently at BAM), but when the work is as good as this, the Cocteau should never fear being overshadowed.
Friel's Vanya in London and Brooklyn
Uncle/Aunt Vanya/freely adapted from Chekhov
Uncle Vanya at the Roundabout
Friel's Uncle Vanya at Lincoln Center's Friel Festival
Uncle Jack--a modernized adaptation
CurtainUp's Chekhov Backgrounder
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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