Final Draft: Uncle Vanya

Comment your final reviews of Uncle Vanya here.

7 Comments on “Final Draft: Uncle Vanya

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

    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. The actors were their characters completely, so I never once doubted who I was seeing on stage.

    It is in one of the most tense and gripping scenes of the production, when the suppressed emotions have finally come exploding out from all directions, where I found the cast truly showed their collective merit. In that moment, Serebryakov has declared the unthinkable, leaving Vanya angry, distraught, and reckless. The room quickly cascaded into a slew of captivating performances complete with realistic tears, panic, and violence. I was on the edge of my seat fully emerged in the events of the scene, and deeply concerned for the collective well-being of the characters I had grown to care for.

    It wasn’t just the cast of “Uncle Vanya” who left a lasting impression. Walking into the Tilden Studio Theatre I was immediately surprised by the scenic design. Before me was a set that had been adapted so perfectly to its current environment that I could not imagine it looking any different or being meant for any other theatre space. It was so serene and elegant, with intricate details, and the warm, weathered appearance of a home. The scenic design included multiple changing set pieces, which filled the space without making the stage appear cluttered or crowded. Every piece, whether it be a bottle, couch, book, or bench, was a playground and was utilized by 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, silently, and without breaking any of them.

    Another excellent example of the lovely design quality of WCSU’s production were the costumes, specifically those of Yelena and young Sonya. While both women seemed to be styled in a new and beautiful gown in every act, the difference between the pair was as stark 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. This attention to detail and design carried on throughout the play, fitting cohesively into the world, adding further to artistic merit of the production.

    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 premiere date thanks to director Pam McDaniel, as well as the cast and crew of WCSU.

  2. Jamie Roberts Final 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 a visually and audibly entrancing production at the Kennedy Centre American College Theatre Region 1 Festival (KCACTF). “Uncle Vanya” is a nineteenth-century dramedy that explores spurious happiness disguised as unrequited love. 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 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 directorial choice of having a complex set is met with an astounding number of crew members who, each with a headset, worked choreographically and efficiently. The cast of “Uncle Vanya” is the only cast thus far at KCACTF to recognize crew during bows, and very well deserving applause for the crew. The tenderness reflected in the set and costuming made me feel comfortable and welcome.

    The characters seemed to dance around the stage as they delightfully 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 vividly elegant 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 physicality 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. 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. Despite the beauty on the outside, “Uncle Vanya” allows the ugly unhappiness on the inside to outwardly show that life is not always fair.

  3. Uncle Vanya
    Jhada-Ann Walker

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

    Anton Chekhov’s, “Uncle Vanya” is a sophisticated piece of art that was showcased by Western Connecticut State University. This two hour long play with intermission was a delicate serving of drama with a side of comedy. On the journey through the Garden of the Serebryakov family estate, the themes of family relationships, friendly relationships, intimate relationship, jealousy and depression were all experienced.

    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 colorful abstract floor art, the best furniture, vintage glassware, a comfortable home full of cushioned seats, a swing and live music is not so perfect after all. However, Western Connecticut evoked that feeling 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 felt as if I was still watching a scene on stage during the set changes that were choreographed to bring 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 elaborate 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 but I would still wear it today. One thing that stood out with the costuming was the hairstyle of each of the ladies. Their hair was extravagant yet still realistically styled fitting their age and status.
    Yelena, the stunningly beautiful wife of the professor, said at once, ” the devil of destruction lives in everyone of you.” She directed her statement to Vanya but in reference to men on a whole as she is a victim to the lust of many men. *Sips Wine. 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 was expelled with much energy and emotion by Joseph Calabrese. The deliverance of the climax 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 main characters; I must highlight the acting of the grandmother ‘Marya’ played by Kat Karl, a dignified woman of class and maturity without being a stereotypically pretentious shaky old lady. She possessed a 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. They conveyed a reasonable picture of being prim and proper with downfalls.
    Now take a sip!

  4. Painfully honest and gives you little to no closure, Uncle Vanya from Western Connecticut is both hilarious and brutally 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 roared we saw the flashes 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 their roles beautifully. There wasn’t a second that I wasn’t invested in both Yelena (Alicia Napolitano) and Sonya (Jillian Caillouette) . 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. While it was nice to see the characters get fleshed out with this extra time, I can’t help but think that they’d be better off pushing through that first act so they could’ve gotten to the meat of the play quicker.
    Vanya (Joseph Calabrese) 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 stunningly executed and true to the Chekhov style, 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, 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.

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

    Despite having premiered 120 years ago, Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” is still capable of affecting audiences due to the raw emotion it contains, and this “Uncle Vanya”, by Western Connecticut State University 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 highest 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 Calabrese 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, shouting and losing control during the aforementioned scene with Serebryakov, and the lowest lows in two separate moments that lead to completely breaking down into a sobbing mess.

    The show’s design was aesthetically pleasing and added so much to the atmosphere of “Uncle Vanya”. Maiko Chii’s set was highly intricate, down to recreations of Astrov’s cartography on the floor of the set—a detail that didn’t make sense until later in the show that led to a moment of realization that this set design is far more detailed than it seems to be on the surface. 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. In this production, they were paced slowly, but serve to contextualize the third and fourth acts. 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 because the play ends before we can.

    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.

  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 delicately polished mahogany furniture shines brightly in front of a wonderfully grand silver tea pot. But what we initially believe to be a restful and peaceful home is gradually, powerfully revealed to be something quite different.

    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 to enter that mood – kudos are due to costume designer Joni Johns Lerner for her exquisite 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 an elegant 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 (due to his repressed depression) 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 radiant wig and costume, Sonya emotionally cut through me in her final monologue by reminding me of the “soliloquies” once said by my grandmother, saying through tears, “We shall survive. And then, we shall rest.” Between Rogers, Calabrese, Napolitano, and Caillouette, they present an accurate and authentic representation of Russian life that can be easily received by Russian and non-Russian audiences alike.

    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.

  7. Uncle Vanya presented by WCSU Department of Theatre Arts
    Reviewed by Andrea Vargas – Rhode Island College
    We all have that one uncle. Uncle Vanya is “that” uncle for this Russian family. “Uncle Vanya” takes place in 19th Century Russia and the theatre was completely transformed into that world. The details bring this show to a whole new level. Some traditional Russian elements in the show included an authentic Russian tea pot, period furniture, breathtaking costumes, and a charming swing in the yard for an extra touch. 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. The audience later finds out is actually a clever representation of maps in which the character Astrov the doctor, played by Sam Rogers, mentions 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 in 2019.) 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. With the intimate nature of the theater, there where moments where Calabrese was within arm’s reach and you feel the need to comfort him with a hug because you see the pain in his eyes. He physicality changes throughout the show as his mental health deteriorates. His captivating performance will not leave you disappointed. The character of Sonya, played by the charming Jillian Caillouette, is here to remind us 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 of 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 maturity and is our source of ‘calm’ both on stage for the characters and off stage for the audience. Some of her best acting comes from the kindness in her eyes while she listened to those she truly cares for. 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 may help audiences understand the text on a deeper level because of her tonal quality, and pacing, combined. Chekov has been generalized as being difficult 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 child 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 family has a know-it-all. 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. His excellent guitar talent, it is a lovely touch to the performance.
    To summarize the 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, one 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.

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