Uncle Vanya | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Uncle Vanya 

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UNCLE VANYA, European Repertory Company. Chekhov's century-old drama is inexhaustible. Its failed family and friends, isolated on a depleted provincial estate, are trapped souls haunted by failed ambitions, unrequited love, the sickness of self-hatred, and an acute grasp of their own transience and insignificance. Fortunately, the playwright-doctor diagnoses these lost souls with compassion; they glow through their pain.

Yasen Peyankov's revival captures--perhaps too well--the play's summer torpor, which parallels the characters' boredom and enervation. Happily, his nine cast members also dig into the unquiet that seethes beneath their small talk. Rich Baker's retired professor is a dullard too self-absorbed to see his mediocrity. His young wife, played by Carolyn Hoerdemann with a sort of elegant paralysis, festers with boredom. Bob Kallus effaces himself in the title role until, goaded by one too many indignities, his Uncle Vanya explodes from disappointment; his "I haven't lived!" expresses the grief the other characters hide. Though Richard Edward Frederick is too young for drunken Dr. Astrov, he understands this idealist's disgust with the sloth he finds around him and within him. Most moving is Sonya, the dutiful, plain daughter who's given up on happiness but not on love. Susan Bennett puts her on the edge of heartbreak, especially in her aching longing for Astrov. Bennett beautifully delivers the play's final valediction--a plea for a life made honorable by worthy labor--like an unanswered prayer.

--Lawrence Bommer

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