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Theater Review (Seattle): ‘Uncle Vanya’ by Akropolis Performance Lab

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Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov’s masterwork of unfulfilled desires and bone-deep regret, is not a play to be approached lightly, and Akropolis Performance Lab’s staging is anything but light. This new translation by Zhenya Lavy, who also plays Marina, is a dour interpretation, with only the barest hints of Chekhov’s wry humor poking through.

Even the dozen-plus songs that punctuate scenes enforce this mood. Sung by the entire cast in Russian and arranged by Lavy, the numbers are alternately lovely and lively, with a surfeit of gorgeous harmonies. Then you look at the translated lyrics in the program and read, “Once there was happiness, and it flew by like a swift-winged bird … Only pain remains” and “I just faithfully wait for the bullets to relieve my suffering and assuage our enmity.”

Joseph Lavy (Vanya) and Margaretta Campagna (Sonya) in Uncle Vanya. Photo: Annie Paladino

Joseph Lavy (Vanya) and Margaretta Campagna (Sonya) in Uncle Vanya. Photo: Annie Paladino

Joseph Lavy directs and plays Vanya, the dutiful but bitter man who manages his late sister’s estate and is convinced that life has little use left for him, an unmarried 47-year-old. Vanya’s introduction is striking, as Lavy heaves a massive chest on stage, with several nested chests inside that contain most of the show’s props and set.

Almost immediately, this Vanya is established as a striver rather than the more passive, resigned character seen in some productions. While this does tend to diminish the character’s comic side, it does provide an opportunity for Lavy to consume the tiny space with his intensely physical and emotionally distraught performance. Can it be overwrought? Certainly, particularly in the show’s climactic moments. Nevertheless, his wild inhibition is often engrossing, particularly in contrast to some of the stiffer performances that surround it.

As Vanya’s niece Sonya — his partner in commiseration — Margaretta Campagna convincingly allows a few rays of optimism to escape before her romantic aspirations are cruelly dashed. As the object of her longing, Carter Rodriguez gives the show’s most controlled performance as Astrov, the country doctor who finds himself entangled in the family’s dysfunction.

Staged in the parlor of The Garden House, a century-old residence on Beacon Hill, Akropolis mounts an intimate production that mostly uses the unorthodox space in interesting ways. Sightlines aren’t ideal, but it’s worth craning your neck to take in this flawed but distinctive take on Chekhov.

Uncle Vanya runs through April 5. Tickets are available for purchase online.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.