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SCRUTINY | Crow’s Theatre Offers A Magnificent ‘Uncle Vanya’ For The Ages

By Paula Citron on September 23, 2022

Crow's Theatre 'Uncle Vanya' (Photo courtesy of Crow's Theatre)
Crow’s Theatre ‘Uncle Vanya’ (Photo courtesy of Crow’s Theatre)

Crow’s Theatre/Uncle Vanya, written by Anton Chekhov, new adaptation by Liisa Repo-Martell, directed by Chris Abraham, Guloien Theatre, Streetcar/Crowsnest. Sept. 6 to Oct. 2. Tickets available here

Director Chris Abraham has given us an Uncle Vanya for the ages. This magnificent production is a joy to behold on every level, be it acting, set, lighting or sound.

I have stated before that Tom Rooney is one of the best actors in Canada, and his complex portrayal of Vanya confirms this statement. His performance is so nuanced, it takes us into the very heart of this troubled man. We understand him absolutely.

Rooney is surrounded by other great actors in this very diverse and talented cast.

Bahia Watson gives an absolutely touching performance as Sonya — so innocent, so sweet, so cautious about life. Ali Kazmi’s Dr. Astrov wears his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never seen an Astrov so full of passion. He is absolutely compelling. For the first time in all the Uncle Vanya productions I have attended, I felt sympathy for Yelena, performed by Shannon Taylor. The gorgeous Taylor, the object of infatuation by the men in the play, certainly plays up her radiance, but does not neglect the fact that she has a heart and humanity.

Eric Peterson as the professor Alexandre has certainly become Canadian theatre’s resident grumpy old man, which he plays in this production to perfection, and proves the complete narcissist that his character is. Carolyn Fe’s Marina, the old nurse, is a delightful bundle of religious warmth. dTaborah Johnson is excellent as the aging Bohemian Maria, dripping boredom and elitism in equal measure, while Anand Rajaram as the hanger-on, much-put-upon Telegin can break hearts with his candid outbursts.

Crow's Theatre 'Uncle Vanya' (Photo courtesy of Crow's Theatre)
Crow’s Theatre ‘Uncle Vanya’ (Photo courtesy of Crow’s Theatre)

The daring set by Julie Fox and Josh Quinlan is in the round with pockets of furniture scattered about. The audience is so close to the actors that it seems we are living with them, as they move between tables and chairs and couches. Abraham’s clever direction isolates these set pieces, highlighted by Kimberly Purtell’s spot lighting, so we see the set transform between being one large room, to being area-specific when needed. The lovely windows with swag curtains on the wall and the chandelier over the set reinforce that this is a prominent manor house.

Ming Wong’s period costumes and Thomas Ryder Payne evocative sound design add to the excellence of this production. In Wong’s case, there are three stand-out decisions — putting the hardworking estate manager Sonya in boy’s overalls, having Yelena’s first entrance be in a dazzling white dress and parasol which establishes her vibrant beauty in one fell swoop, and fashioning a clever Bohemian outfit in bits and pieces for Maria.

Then, there is Liisa Repo-Martell’s brilliant adaptation. Repo-Martell is better known as an actor, but she proves herself an adapter of skill with this Uncle Vanya. Perhaps her acting chops allowed her to craft dialogue that flows easily off the tongue in true naturalistic fashion.

It’s hard to put into words just what a wonderful production this Uncle Vanya is that isn’t going to sound like a laundry list of superlatives. In other words, this is a run-don’t-walk.

By the way, Chekhov called his play comedies. I have always found the playwright depressing, but Ripo-Martell’s adaptation and Abraham’s direction did produce a few smiles, even chuckles.


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Paula Citron
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