First Draft Review: Uncle Vanya

Comment your first draft reviews of Uncle Vanya. 

8 Comments on “First Draft Review: Uncle Vanya

  1. Painfully honest and gives you little to no closure, Uncle Vanya from Western Connecticut is both hilarious and painfully realistic. An all around solid performance from a script that isn’t easy for college students to handle properly.
    A well thought out, well used, and incredibly effective set, topped with a floor painted to match Astrov’s maps. The set changes were not seamless, however Chekhov’s writing does tend to prevent seamless set changes. The lighting design was beautifully handled, and well coordinated with the sound. As thunder would roar we would see the flash of lighting from outside the upstage windows spaced out at realistic intervals. There was a clear distinction between day and night and there was never any question about when the character’s were awake.
    The cast was superb and adopted the roles of these characters beautifully. There wasn’t a second that I wasn’t invested in both Alicia Napolitano (Yelena) and Jillian Caillouette (Sonya). Napolitano flawlessly adopted the posture of a wealthy Russian woman, and the two of them played off each other with a comfortableness and level of chemistry rarely scene, especially in Act two when Sonya confesses her feelings for Astrov.
    Western Connecticut did fall into a slight trap with the first half of the play. They took their time throughout Act one and while that pacing worked for the rest of the show it wasn’t as effective for Chekhov’s exposition filled first act. Had they pushed through that first act they could’ve gotten to the meat of the play much quicker, but I was still invested in the play despite the slightly slow opening act.
    Joseph Calabrese (Vanya) was also incredibly engaging, and captured attention effortlessly. His voice alone commanded such power and resonated throughout the space. Come Act three I got to see him unleash this powerful tool and bring a level of power and volume that was so incredibly unexpected and effective it even became scary for a few brief moments. My only critique on his performance is during the climax in Act three he relied on yelling and raw anger for almost the entirety of the scene, with a short moment towards the end were he broke down and became much more vulnerable. That one moment of vulnerability was so powerful that it just made me want more variation from the rest of his outburst.
    Despite these few flaw, this production was wonderful and true to the Chekhov stereotype, there was little to no closure in the end. The little closure we had, such as Astrov and Yelena finally being open and honest with each other was magnificent to watch, and seeing Yelena drop her guard entirely to have a quick moment of fun with no repercussions was so refreshing and beautifully contradictory to everything we saw from her beforehand.
    This was a wonderful show and I highly recommend that everyone who is able to see it should do so.

  2. Comedy with a tragic edge, a roller-coaster ride of intense and deeply human emotions paired with beautiful design work. Western Connecticut State University’s production of “Uncle Vanya” is heart breaking, hilarious, and sure to impress.

    Walking into the Tilden Studio Theatre I was automatically surprised by the set of “Uncle Vanya”. Could all this really be originally designed for a different theatre? Logic told me, well yes, of course it was, but my eyes saw a set that had been adapted so perfectly to its current environment that I could not imagine it looking any different. It was beautiful, with intricate details and a warm, weathered appearance of a home. The set contained multiple changing set pieces which filled the space without making the stage looked cluttered or crowded. Every piece, whether it be a bottle, couch, book, or bench, was utilized as a playground for the actors who inhabited it.

    While we are talking about bottles, I would also like to recognize the stage crew who maneuvered the scene transitions. Among the many things on stage, there were a lot of glass bottles and I am not quite sure how they managed to do everything in a timely manner without breaking any of them.

    Another design feat was of course the costumes, which remained wonderful throughout the show and helped transport the audience into the world of the play. An excellent example were the costumes of Yelena and young Sonya, played by Seniors Alicia Napolitano and Jillian Caillouette respectively. While both young women seemed to be styled in a new and beautiful gown in every act, the difference between the pair was as stack as the difference in their lifestyles. Yelena’s gowns were for the most part glamorous, full of lace, ruffles, and trailing skirts, entirely fitting for her life of luxury and leisure. In contrast, Sonya’s dresses were far more practical and casual, fit for someone who has status but works for everything instead of being waited on. As a whole, the costumes were very well executed and fit cohesively into the world provided.

    However, what astounded me the most about WCSU’s, “Uncle Vanya” was the level of acting talent and maturity which seemed to be evenly dispersed throughout the cast. It wasn’t just one or two actors who stood out to me, every character had special moments during the show and the members of the cast were not afraid to take their moment to shine. Because of this, I was totally captivated by the story unfolding before me and never once taken away from the show by a poor acting decision. The pacing of the performance and the broad range of vocal dynamics employed by the cast also had a large part to play in why this piece was so enjoyable. The lines seemed to flow from the actors so naturally. I never once doubted who I was seeing on stage, the actors were their characters completely.

    Full of wasted life, impossible loves, and laughing in the face of sadness, this Russian legacy is still living and thriving 120 years after its original 1899 Moscow premier date thanks to director Pam McDaniel, as well as the cast and crew of WCSU.

  3. Uncle Vanya presented by WCSU Department of Theatre Arts
    Reviewed by Andrea Vargas – Rhode Island College
    We all have that one uncle. The one who hangs around all the time, slightly eccentric, but at the end of the day has a good heart. Uncle Vanya is “that” uncle for this Russian family. “Uncle Vanya” takes place in 19th Century Russia and boy did it feel that was in the theater. The details gave full life to this show with aspects such as the traditional Russian tea pot, the period furniture, breathtaking costumes, and a charming swing in the yard. When you see “Uncle Vanya”, it will be like playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” looking for all the special moments and details put throughout.
    The audience is immediately greeted to this show by a colorful floor with an unrecognizable design which the audience later finds out is actually a clever representation of maps in which the character Astrov the doctor, played by Sam Rogers, talks about with immense passion about how he could transform the forests in Russia to help what we call today as “deforestation” and where he has already begun. This continues to ring true for audiences now and remains a topic of interest and concern which still very relevant today. Vanya played by Joseph Calabrese, puts on a remarkable performance of this character taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions with lots of laughter, but also sensitivity and sorrow. Due to the intimate nature of the theater, there where moments where Calabrese was within arm’s reach and you just was to jump up and give him a hug because you see every mental wound, by simply looking at his eyes and physicality change throughout the show. His captivating performance will not leave you disappointed. The character of Sonya, played by the charming Jillian Caillouette, is here to remind us every so passionately, the experience which awaits us after the torture we receive on earth – “We shall rest, we shall rest, we shall rest.”
    Both Ryan and Caillouette bring a sense on innocence and passion to the stage in this production with their delivery giving the audience a feeling of inspiration. We also have characters such as Marina played by Caleigh Rose Lozito, who bring a sense of having maturity and is our source of ‘calm’ both on stage for the characters and off stage for the audience. Some of her best acting came from the kindness in her eyes while she listened to those she truly cares for, and it speaks volumes. While so much is said in the silence, you won’t want to miss one of her hilarious one liners upon exiting the stage, as they will have you in stiches. The character of Yelena played by Alicia Nappolitano, held herself with elegance and grace on the stage and is very reminiscent of what we could call a “Russian Audrey Hepburn”. Her speaking voice is so rich and unique and quite honestly may help audiences understand the text on a deeper level because of her tonal quality, and pacing, combined. Chekov has been generalized as being a difficult beast to understand, but with the overall acting quality of this show, the story is very clear from beginning to end. The character of Marya played by Kat Karl, gives the show a touch of nostalgia and is reminiscent of a grandparent who may or may not pick a favorite kid as Marya does with her son, the whinny spoiled brat, Serebrvakov. Serebrvakov played by John J. Mudgett, is the know it all of this play, because every play needs one of those. Shout out to Guitarist, Brian O’Sullivan who transforms this already glorious performance and brings you to the streets of Russia where you would hear his traditional folk music being played. Kuddos to your excellent guitar talent, it is a lovely touch.
    To summarize to overall feelings taken from this performance, Uncle Vanya will remind you that family is crazy, love does not always work out, and life is hard. That being said, you can’t just throw it away or go through the motions without feelings because we all have a lesson to learn in life, and in the end, we shall rest.

  4. Jamie Roberts Review of: “Uncle Vanya”
    By Anton Chekhov
    Western Connecticut State University at KCACTF Region 1
    January 31st, 2019

    “Hang your ears on the nail of attention” as Western Connecticut State University presents an absolutely visually and audibly entrancing production at the Kennedy Centre American College Theatre Region 1 Festival. “Uncle Vanya” is a nineteenth-century dramedy that explores spurious happiness disguised in the sense of loving another that will never return love back. This play leaps into the suffering of unhappiness and hopelessness of life within a twisted family dynamic.

    An intricate, colorfully dynamic, and relatively large set fit surprisingly comfortable in the black box theatre as if this was the productions original home. The costuming, wigs, set, and even floor seemed to possess this soft quality that evoked gentleness and peace from the light colors used combined with simply stylish patterns. Yelena’s (Alicia Napolitano’s) first white dress with a soft floral pattern and a slight train was so elegant that it did not bother me that her dress dragged against the floor as she swung on the swing. You read that right, there was a literal swing hung from the grid during the first scene. This directional choice of having a complex set is met with an astounding number of crew members who worked efficiently, all with headsets, to prepare everyone for the next scene. The cast of “Uncle Vanya” is the only cast thus far to recognize crew during bows, and very well deserving applause for the crew. The tenderness reflected in the set and costuming allowed me to feel comfortable and welcome into the lives of the characters of this play.

    The characters seemed to dance around the stage, without literally dancing, as they beautifully took advantage of the space and set as part of their blocking. There was a visually appealing scene when Vanya (Joseph Calabrese) confesses his love for Yelena when she is on the swing, facing away from him. He takes the ropes of the swing and spins her around to face him, the ropes crossed half way up and these two lock eyes as Vanya stoops to her level to talk to her…what a visually beautiful moment! There is a series of continual scenes in which individuals end up crying, the blocking has them each ending up on the wicker chair downstage left to echo the notion that everyone becomes unhappy in life at some point. Napolitano is a young adult who was playing a woman older than her actual age. She was careful in her vocal choices to reflect this age when she incorporates a lower register throughout the show. Napolitano also has a captivating sort of ‘golf ball in the back of the mouth’ effect some opera performers use, this slight rounding tone combined with her lower register made her voice absolutely soothing the entire time.

    The actors were given good direction to work from moment to moment which is reflected in their facial expressions, physical pauses to reflect thought, and change in tone of voice. There is a solid moment near the end of the play when Sonia (Jillian Caillouette), Vanya’s niece, has to convince Vanya to give back the morphine to Astrov (Sam Rogers), the doctor. Caillouette is strong in her conviction between her sharp and firm physicalities to her concerned yet serious face and tone of voice. There were only a few moments throughout “Uncle Vanya” that a characters’ intensity and tone did not have a solid build-up to this moment. Vanya is textually pushed to his breaking point when Serebryakov (John J. Mudgett) exclaims he wants to sell the estate. Contextually, it makes sense that Vanya’s character would be audibly and visually upset. The problem I had with this moment is that Calabrese chose to start out at a ‘10’ which left him nowhere to go and therefore seemed like he was yelling for a while. Caillouette had a stellar moment at the very end of the play in her monologue about Uncle Vanya and herself in that they will find happiness in their new life after natural death. With a furrow of her brow and a quiver of her lip, her performance was convincing and powerful as her characters’ passion shone through. This play is Vanya’s story, hence the title, “Uncle Vanya.” This title of ‘uncle’ also leads to the point of view from Sonia, his niece, and this last scene ties the audience back to Chekhov’s theme of unhappiness and hopelessness of life.

    “Uncle Vanya” takes us on a rollercoaster of life, Chekhov’s writing allows empathization to these characters as actors from the Western Connecticut State University completely embody this. The beautiful set and costume design allow for a sense of peace and openness for the audience to become entranced in this work. Despite the beauty on the outside, “Uncle Vanya” allows the ugly unhappiness from the inside to be shown that life always is not fair.

  5. Uncle Vanya
    Jhada-Ann Walker

    How about we drink some wine, but from the same glass?

    A sophisticated piece of Art showcased by Western Connecticut State University, is Anton Chekhov’s play, “Uncle Vanya”. This two hour long play with intermission delicately served drama with a side of comedy. The themes of family relationship, friendly relationship , intimate relationship and jealousy was all experienced on the journey through the Garden of the Serebryakov family estate.

    And so the play began with the Nanny knitting as though she was directing the choir of sweet sounding birds chirping outside the big windows of the estate. Her knitting was also symbolic to the series of events that unraveled as the play began. What seems to be a perfect lifestyle with the colorful abstract floor art, the best furniture, vintage glassware, comfortable home full of cushioned seats, a swing and live music is what not that perfect after all. Not everything that seems classical is pure. However, Western Connecticut evoked that feeling in me with the on cue sound effects of the wind blowing the door wide open, the raindrops, the stroke lightening pacing through every other beat of thunder and not to mention the dogs barking away to every little sound they hear. The subtle change of weather through the lighting choice was on point putting me in a cozy mood. I was still in a fairy-tale story book throughout the scene changes because somehow they were very engaging to watch and see how shadows on stage brought Maiko Chii’s (set designer) creations to life.

    Then all of a sudden I’m back to reality by the proper tone, and pitch, and pace, and poise and grace of the magnificent elaborately elegant appearance of the professor and his fresh young second wife. This takes me to the lovely and well chosen wardrobe of the cast of Uncle Vanya, it was very 19th century and still fancy. One thing that stood out for me with the costuming was the hairstyle of each of the ladies it was extravagant yet still realistically styled fitting their age and status.

    Yelena, the stunningly beautiful lady of the professor, said at once, ” the devil of destruction lives in everyone of you.” Directing her statement to Vanya but in reference to men on a whole as she is like needle making the patterns with the yarn. Her appearance has caused temptations and covetousness as stoops to the bow of the thirsty men around her. Though this added to the climax there was bigger issues at hand in the estate, all just bottled up beneath the skin of Uncle Vanya. Then at last all the flaws, selfishness, greed and legacy of feelings came pouring out like popping a bottle of wine for the first, all the sweet flavor hits the senses of your human figure.

    Each actor displayed a consistency in their character throughout the play but besides the obvious, I must highlight the acting of the grandmother ‘Marya’ played by Kat Karl, what dignified woman of class and maturity without the stereotypical pretentious shaky old lady. She possessed the quality of high maintenance with a touch of moral norms and values of the 19th century.

    Western Connecticut graceful presentation was a tidy balance of wine and cheese with a few drops of gout medicine.

  6. Uncle Vanya
    Reviewed by Dylan Bowden

    The scene opens with a dim light illuminating an extensive map of Doctor Astrov’s creation, while the traditional Russian folk song, “Dark Eyes,” echoes in a spare yet ornate Russian home. The beautifully polished mahogany furniture shines brightly in front of a wonderfully grand silver tea pot. But what we initially believe to be a beautiful, restful, and peaceful home is gradually, powerfully revealed to be something quite different.

    At KCACTF, we find a common theme amongst the shows presented – survival. Whether we are faced with dilemmas in romantic and parental relationships, or in matters of the heart and home, we all survive. We all survive and, inevitably, we rest.

    Yes, my big, fat Russian heart is coming into swing again! And as a proud Russian-American, I am pleased to say that this production of “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov was absolutely stunning. From the set to the lighting, from the sound to the stunning costumes, and of course we mustn’t forget the stellar acting, this cast successfully cultivated Chekhov’s brooding dream into wonderful fruition. Many theatre companies fall short of this quite difficult accomplishment. Some perform Chekhov’s plays with too much drama; others water him down in attempting to create more modern or “relevant” readings to communicate to more effectively with (usually non-Russian) audiences.

    Kudos to guitarist Brian O’Sullivan, who transported us from a theatre in Cape Cod, Massachusetts into a stale, muggy room in Imperial Russia. But the music wasn’t all that helped me to enter that mood – kudos are due to costume designer Joni Johns Lerner for her beautiful and traditional garments.

    Upon Yelena’s entrance onto the stage, my jaw dropped. Alicia Napolitano’s wonderful performance was greatly augmented by her costume, paired with a beautiful lace umbrella. Lerner’s designs drew from Russian folk patterns traditionally worn by peasants, while the clothing of the well-off characters used noticeably richer fabrics.

    The Western Connecticut State University cast and crew of “Uncle Vanya” successfully captured the authenticity of Chekhov’s play, while also recognizing that not every audience member will be familiar with Russian culture, personality, and life in general. While Chekhov is famously known for his lengthy monologues discussing existential philosophy, Sam Rogers’ performance as Doctor Astrov – a smart man who is blinded against love – drew me in right away.

    But of course, Joseph Calabrese’s Vanya was as exhilarating as it was comedic and, at times, depressing. Calabrese’s performance proves that authenticity can be modern with the right interpretations of the script – as he chuckled whenever anyone indulged an intellectual soliloquy and brought dissociation to his combative scenes.

    Each character’s action seemed so familiar, as though I had known them on their entire life journey toward this very moment. Jillian Caillouette’s portrayal of Sonya felt as though I was talking to my grandmother. Behind her beautiful hair and costume, Sonya emotionally cut through me in her final monologue, saying through tears, “We shall survive. And then, we shall rest.”

    In this beautifully humorous and authentic presentation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Western Connecticut State University has created a heartbreaking, inspirational, comedic (and yes, occasionally depressing – it is Russian, after all) piece of art. Bravo to the cast and crew of Uncle Vanya.

  7. “Uncle Vanya”
    Angela Tricarico | University of New Haven

    Familial and relationship drama takes center stage in Western Connecticut State University’s production of “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov. It’s a story of heartbreak and hopelessness, of love both requited and unrequited, of the deep unhappiness that comes to exist as a result of years and years of monotony and not truly living for yourself. This “Uncle Vanya” hits all of the right marks with acting and design to create a remarkable take on this classic piece of drama.

    The heart of this play is not in the titular Vanya, but instead, in Sonya (Jillian Caillouette). She is the thread tying all of the characters together, be it because of a familial relation or a romantic interest. Sonya is closest to her Uncle Vanya (Joseph Calabrese), a reluctant friend to Yelena (Alicia Napolitano), who is married to her father, Professor Serebryakov (John J. Mudgett), and one-third of a love triangle involving Yelena and the doctor Astrov (Sam Rogers). Caillouette was a revelation as Sonya. She captured the full range of emotions necessary to realize this character’s fullest potential. It required a little bit of flirtatiousness during scenes with Astrov, vulnerability during a particularly crushing monologue about beauty and her lack thereof, and the ability to be a pillar of strength for Vanya because as everything crumbled around him, she seemed to be his anchor during her last monologue, repeating “we shall rest.” Calabrese also gave a stunning performance. His monologues were particularly affecting. A standout moment for him came in act three, in a scene where Vanya is passionately refuting Serebryakov’s plan to sell the family estate. Calabrese had the biggest extremes as far as the acting goes: the highest highs during the aforementioned scene with Serebryakov, and the lowest lows in two separate moments that lead to Vanya completely breaking down into a sobbing mess.

    In addition to all-around brilliant acting, the show’s beautiful design added so much to the atmosphere of Uncle Vanya. Maiko Chii’s set was incredibly intricate, down to the recreations of Astrov’s cartography on the floor of the set—a detail that didn’t make sense until later in the show, but a moment of realization that this set design is far more detailed than it seems to be on the surface. The show’s props (by props mater Tyler Gallagher), including teapots, glass bottles full of alcohol, and a messy desk with papers strewn about all looked period-appropriate, and costumes by Joni Johns Lerner further conveyed the time period and location of the piece. Aspects of the sound (by Arielle Edwards) and lighting (by Scott Cally) design aided in establishing the location the play takes place in. Crickets hummed during scenes in the daytime, and during one particular scene, a thunderstorm, claps of thunder were accompanied by flashes of yellow light—lightning—through windows at the back of the set.

    Despite a wonderful job establishing the period and characters of this piece, it’s hard to work around how expository the first two acts of the play are. They drag on longer than necessary to contextualize the third and fourth act, paced slowly, the way hot summer days much like the one in the first act seem to go by. By the third and fourth acts, the action barrels toward a large climax and then downhill too quickly, and we never really deal with the fallout.

    There’s no closure. Everyone’s fates are up in the air. It’s unclear whether or not Vanya and Sonya really will be okay following the events of acts three and four, but this production makes me think that they will—Caillouette’s Sonya will make sure of that.

  8. The Western Connecticut State University production of “Uncle Vanya” was raw, emotional, and beautifully composed. As you walked into the space, every little detail is perfectly in place, from the map on the floor, to the the texture of the architecture. Technically speaking, this piece was impeccable. The lighting and sound design felt very natural. There were aspects of the tech that went unnoticed, not because it was boring or anything, but because it made the piece come to life in a way that we were all completely sold on the world of the play. Props, costumes, hair, and makeup were spot on in every way, which was an incredibly refreshing, but not surprising considering prior pieces performed by WCSU.

    There was nothing about this piece that was left to be desired. The quality of the acting was almost flawless with the exception of very minor issues regarding the flow of dialogue. Jillian Caillouette, who most of us remember from her wildly popular performance as Janet Van De Graaff in their 2016 production of “The Drowsy Chaperone”, was particularly mesmerizing in this piece. It was lovely to see her perform in a play rather than a musical, because we had the opportunity to see her present raw emotions rather than goofy song and dance. However, I personally found Alicia Napolitano’s performance as Yelena to be absolutely captivating, more so than any other actor on stage. Her face was beautifully full of life throughout the entire piece, even her hardest of moments. All of the actors in this production accomplished an incredible feat, seeing as many young audiences today don’t get to experience much Chekhov anymore, so to see the entire audience on their feet during the final bows was quite frankly exhilarating.

    This production was a breath of fresh air compared to the previous two performed at festival. It didn’t give us one thing, and then lack another. It was practically perfect in every way, all the way down to the multiple glass decanters… The piece itself gave us love, loss, tragedy, and resolution. It made us reflect on the relationships in our lives that we appreciate, and the relationships we might need to let go of. It gave us an understanding of what it feels like to have your life turn upside down, to have all of your hopes crushed, and how the most basic acts of kindness can remind us that everything is going to be okay.

    Overall, West Conn’s production of “Uncle Vanya” has proven to us that they are more than just a fancy program with pretty musicals. This piece gave us heart, and raw untapped emotion that reminded us of what real acting looks like. Every little detail was handled as if the piece would fail completely without it. The actors managed to take a dialogue heavy show, and keep the audience’s full attention throughout the entirety of it. There wasn’t a single sentence that allowed the audience’s mind to wander from the piece. This was the kind of performance I came here to see.

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