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The Pearl Theatre Company Opens the Season with Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya"
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The Pearl Theatre Company Opens the Season with Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya"

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The Pearl Theatre Company
Hal Brooks, Artistic Director

Uncle Vanya
By Anton Chekhov

Translated by Paul Schmidt
Directed by Hal Brooks

The Pearl Theatre
555 West 42nd Street
NY, NY 10036

Robin Leslie Browne, Bradford Cover, Chris Mixon,
Dominic Cuskern, Rachel Botchan, Michelle Beck,
Brad Heberlee, Carol Schultz, Joie Bauer

Scenic Designer: Jason Simms
Costume Designer: Barbara A. Bell
Lighting Design: Seth Reiser
Sound Designer: M. Florian Staab
Dramaturg: Kate Farrington
Production Stage Manager: Kevin Clutz
Production Manager/Tech. Director: Gary Levinson
Casting Director: Stephanie Klapper
Press: Blake Zidell & Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 21, 2014

On Opening Night, Fall Season at The Pearl, the house was packed and energized. Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya was never as boisterous and blustery in Vanya’s niece’s Russian, countryside estate as it was tonight. Jason Simms’ wide open living spaces, adorned in uncluttered fashion with antique porcelain cups and saucers, a silver teapot, tall, silk draperies, a period desk and table, plush dining chairs, a fainting couch, a wide, wooden dining table, and a chandelier, brought the viewer right in to the unfolding drama. The family and neighbors that inhabit and visit this sometimes warm, sometimes chilly space share a variety of emotions and frustrations, silently in gesture and openly in cathartic monologues. Ivan (Vanya) Petrovich (Chris Mixon) and Sonya (Michelle Beck), Professor Alexander Serebriakov’s (Dominic Cuskern) daughter by his late, first wife, work night and day to keep the estate productive and solvent. That job had been the Professor’s late wife’s mission, and now Vanya, the brother of the late wife, and Vanya’s niece Sonya live off the estate, in Sonya’s inherited ownership.

When Professor Alexander arrives for a visit with his young, new wife, Yelena (Rachel Botchan), Vanya lusts and longs to steal her from his nemesis, Alexander, whom all find terribly boring, Chekhov’s inherent theme of ennui. In fact, most of the characters are bored with their lives and limited futures, except for Vanya’s neighbor, Dr. Mikhail Lvovich Astrov (Bradford Cover), who often makes use of his medical bag. The play, published in 1897, includes this peripatetic doctor, who makes house calls by horse carriage (thanks to M. Florian Staab’s excellent sound design). The one character enamored of life, its nature, trees, flowers, waterways, animals, and the terrifying thoughts of a change in climate that would destroy his beloved landscape, is Astrov, whose lust for nature expands with his lust for Yelena, in competition with Vanya. As the play progresses, Sonya longs for Astrov, who longs for Yelena, who is torn, as a married woman to the aging, ill Alexander, who announces he’s selling the estate. Sonya and Vanya explode, with Vanya attempting murder by shotgun and planning suicide by morphine. Also onstage are Marina (Robin Leslie Brown), the family’s dedicated nurse, and Mrs. Voinitsky, Maman (Carol Schultz), Vanya’s bossy mother. A poor neighbor, Ilya Ilyich Telegin, called Waffles (Brad Heberlee), also lives on the estate and serves as a friend of Marina, helping her wind wool. A hired man (Joie Bauer) appears at moments to alert the doctor’s carriage, and so on.

Ms. Botchan has wonderful outbursts of dilemma, choosing between the two men who lust for her and the yawning Alexander, who has claimed her. Yelena even tried to help Sonya in her own loveless life, in a secret meeting with Astrov, in which Astrov rejects the notion of Sonya and forcefully embraces Yelena. Ms. Botchan swirls about in Barbara A. Bell’s gorgeous satiny finery, as vodka is poured, much of which is rapidly guzzled by Astrov, who pines for completeness. Mr. Cover, as Astrov, is delightfully ebullient and brimming with persona. Ms. Beck, as Sonya, although in pale, plain dresses, glows with desire for the doctor, plotting under her breath. She’s one of the most realistically drawn characters, with genuine expressiveness. Mr. Cuskern is refined and sophisticated, yet also vulnerable in demeanor, as the unengaging Professor should be. But, it’s Chris Mixon, in the title role, who magnetized my eye. He illustrated with his face and posture and tone just what loneliness meant for him, a life of endless dependency and work, with external forces still foreboding. Hal Brooks has directed to draw the audience into this timeless masterpiece, expanding the drama and romantic intrigue. Kudos to Chekhov. A lovely After-Party was held at KTCHN Restaurant, across 42nd Street from The Pearl.

Chris Mixon, Brad Heberlee, Bradford Cover
in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya
at The Peal Theatre Company
Courtesy of Al Foote III

Michelle Beck and Chris Mixon
in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya"
at The Pearl Theatre Company
Courtesy of Al Foote III

Rachel Botchan and Brad Heberlee
in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya"
at The Pearl Theatre Company
Courtesy of Al Foote III

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at