“Uncle Vanya”—A Vibrant Cage Match of Discontent, at Cutting Ball, S.F.
Chekhov Pits City Dreamers against Country Workers
by Carly Van Liere
The set itself a cage, metal bars and shelves lining two parallel sides of the stage, the audience sits, divided into two, facing itself. The characters bounce off the walls and climb the structure, hands stretched wide as they palm and grasp the handle bars, reaching for an idyllic past or perhaps the future.
Director Paige Rogers cleverly subtitles her production: “family baggage minus the handles.” The opening tableau flashes a glimpse at the future none of us want: Vanya (lovable George Saulnier) sits snoozing in the comfy living room chair in his tighty whities. His fist nestled against his temple like Rodin’s “Thinker.”
And a quick Flamenco beat erupts. An Argentine Yelena (exotic and playful Virginia M. Blanco) dances in front of underwear-clad Vanya. One wrist above her head, she shakes her hips and slowly rotates, a spinning dancer in a music box.
The superb cast endows every action with vulnerability and truth. Even the less likable characters have their charms. As he inspects his property, the bumbling, bourgeois Professor (high-strung Doug Nolan) exposes his midlife crisis–with flashy activewear and a young wife in tow.
His daughter, Sonya (captivating Haley Bertelsen), struggles to maintain order with a heartwarming sternness, while the household collapses into late night debauches. Sonya loves the stylish Doctor Astrov (lanky, cool Adam Magill), who rocks a mustache, shaved-head combo. When Astrov leaves, Sonya puts a metal stool on over her head, the metal structure framing and trapping her face. She grabs the bars with her hands, looking out from the prison of her simple country life.
Magill’s Astrov complements Yelena’s dark and striking beauty, with his mystery and lovable quirks. He prowls the stage like a cat, mounting the table on all fours, slinking to face Yelena to share a secret kiss. Vanya, our downtrodden underwear hero, sadly observes from the door, flowers in his hand.
Bouncing off the walls, this Chekhov crew faces a bitterly dull and disappointing rural life. They climb the cage perhaps for a glimpse of what things might be, seeking distance from their lackluster days.
It’s a cathartic experience, while our country’s future seems cemented into a grotesque harshness. Like Uncle Vanya, we rage with suppressed fury, emotions running high, feeling hopeless. Enjoy a thoughtful, inventive, and lovely “Uncle Vanya.”
“Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov, translated by Paul Schmidt, directed by Paige Rogers, at Cutting Ball Theatre, at Exit Left, through Sunday, October 21, 2018. Info: cuttingball.com
Cast: Haley Bertelsen, Virginia M. Blanco, Adam Magill, Doug Nolan, Omar Osario-Peña, Merle Rabine, Miyoko Sakatani, Nancy Sans, and George Saulnier.