“Uncle Vanya” – Southwest Shakespeare Company

This review aired on KBAQ March 9, 2015


Southwest Shakespeare Company, Anita Cox Farnsworth Studio Theater, Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ

Southwest Shakespeare Company describes itself as “Arizona’s Professional Classical Theatre Company.”  That definition implies that Mesa’s 21-year-old theater performs the often ponderous scripts that can bore audiences as chatty characters spew endless dialogue that takes a play’s heavy theme and drags them out for a lengthy performance of often bland monotone drama.

Such is the case with the company’s first Anton Chekhov drama, “Uncle Vanya.”  The complex work explores bleak late 19th century Russian life but this production has been updated by Annie Baker to a contemporary work.  Baker tries desperately to use everyday language as she unsuccessfully attempts to bring an intimacy to the story that dissects the desires of human relationships.

Her version doesn’t streamline a talky script or the characteristic heavy-handed approach Chekhov takes with his often bleak Russian characters.  Like many Russian plays, “Uncle Vanya” examines the lives of privileged and wealthy aristocratic folk but reveals them to complain about little annoyances that mar otherwise privileged lives of luxury and arrogance.  What about the really poor people who lived in Russia at the time?  Even the servants in Chekhov plays seem to lead an easy life.

The in-the-round production is presented in the Mesa Arts Center’s Studio Theater so the characters come into intimate contact with the audience.  The setting is furnished beautifully but in a long ago historic period which detracts from the adaptation which would have been more effectively staged with a contemporary Russian look.

There’s nothing seriously amiss with the nicely acted production although Harold Dixon’s laggardly staging further draws out the already slow moving and belabored play.  Jim Coates leads the ensemble as the stalwart old retired professor, Alexander, who, with his young second wife, Yelena, played with snobbish pride by Jordan Letson, has retired to his estate where the action occurs.  His first wife’s brother, Vanya, played with intensity by Jesse James Kamps, manages the place.  Also living on the estate is Vanya’s mother, Maria, played with matronly pride by Dorothy Anderson, and the professor’s grown daughter, Sonya, played by Allison Sell with earnest sincerity.  After much turmoil, everything is resolved and life continues to plod on as it has.  Not much happens in “Uncle Vanya.”  There’s a nice performance from Pamela Fields as Marina, an old but wise nanny.

Southwest Shakespeare Company’s production of “Uncle Vanya” continues through March 21.  If dynamic classical theater is your thing, SSC’s “Uncle Vanya” will make you wonder why this is one of Chekhov’s finest plays.  For tickets, call the Mesa Arts Center box office at 480-644-6500 or order tickets online at www.mesaartscenter.com.

Grade: D

One Response to ““Uncle Vanya” – Southwest Shakespeare Company”

  1. Robert Douglas said:

    Mar 13, 15 at 08:48

    This reviewer is quite obviously out of his League on this one. Mr. Curcio, articulate and self-important, belies his ignorance of this genre. He would do well to educate himself about Chekhov and would do well to learn more about theater outside of popularized musicals before taking on a production like this. In fact, I would seriously question whether he even attended this performance.