Theater Review: Uncle Vanya at Museum of Contemporary Art

Rarely does a review begin with acknowledgments of set design, but renowned architect Leigh Breslau, in collaboration with Court Theatre’s Artistic Director Charles Newell, has created a beautifully appropriate work of modern art as the setting for Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Actually set in a country house in 19th-century Russia, the stage is transformed into a series of staircases and platforms that resemble Escher’s vertical mazes. It is the staging and an amazing cast that give us the reality of Chekhov’s work.

Uncle Vanya is a seamless examination of the ultimate dysfunctional family. Vanya’s brother, Serebriakov (James Harms), returns with his young second wife, Yelena (Chaon Cross) to the family home to write another scholarly book. His daughter, Sonya (Elizabeth Yedo), with Vanya (Kevin Gudahl) maintain the estate, harvesting and selling the crops and sharing the proceeds with the “professor.” Mrs. Voinitsky (Peggy Roeder) sees only her son-in-law as a person of value, relegating Vanya to the status of provider.

Penny Slusher is Marina, housekeeper and family stabilizer. Her cups of tea and drinks are offered whenever a crisis arises. Vanya’s friend, Astrov (Timothy Edward Kane), the family physician, lives nearby and is the local environmentalist. Determined to restore the forests and lakes, he gives the play a contemporary theme.

Chekhov’s work, written years before that of Eugene O’Neil, looks at similar family relationships. Serebriakov’s haughty superiority literally destroys Vanya’s life. His mother sees only intellectual accomplishment and ignores her own son. Secret loves further complicate the plot.

The soaring set draws the audience into the play. Our eyes move from every angle as the intensity of the drama increases. The production was sold out on opening night with stand-by patrons being seated minutes before the play began. Running through Feb. 11, performances are scheduled Wednesday through Sunday. The Museum of Contemporary Art is in downtown Chicago at 220 E. Chicago, just a block from Michigan Avenue. Tickets are available by calling the Court Theatre Box Office at (773) 753-4472.

From the Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2007, issue

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