Review: Uncle Vanya (Next Folding Theatre Co.)

Category: stage 186

Love and Roses: Jeremy Gilmer reviews Next Folding Theatre Company’s production of Uncle Vanya (Nov. 4-6 | Open Space Theatre).

Scott Shannon as Dr. Astrov. facebook.com/NextFoldingTheatre
Jeremy Gilmer

Few names in theatre bring the level of anticipation that a Chekhov work does. The Next Folding Theatre Company has brought Uncle Vanya, adapted by the Ireland’s Conor McPherson, to TNB’s Open Space Theatre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Ilkay Silk directed the production, and her fingerprints are everywhere on the stage. A spare but elegant set design provided space for some rapturous moments of conflict, costumes were beautiful and in two viewings the technical production seemed to be executed without a single misplaced foot. 

The performers brought humor and levity yet carried the tragedy of these lives on strong shoulders. There were moments of brilliance and a couple of missed opportunities in the work. 

Although a minor character on paper, Kate Macrae’s portrayal of Nana reminded me of the power of the right casting. Her lines were delivered in a voice that reminded me of an Irish storyteller on the Aran islands, and this gave her moments a humorous and very heartfelt impact on the audience and the characters around her. 

Stephen May’s Telegin, an easy source of laughter, was also a tragic shadow on his own, his sad life delivered in a short monologue and with a dancer’s skill in his shuffling and projection from his rocking chair, guitar in hand. 

Mariyan was played by the beautiful Linda McNutt, who I thought was too young for the role of Vanya’s mother. In her scolding of Vanya in the third act, she brought a fire and light to her character, releasing what felt like years of pent-up anger, and from where I sat held a mask of real grief when she departed stage. I missed that burning in the other three acts. 

Naomi McGowan’s Yelena was executed with a bright, vibrant frustration, fending off romantic expectations from numerous suitors. John Ball as Professor Serebrykov, a veteran of theatre in Fredericton, brought a ferocity but also a vulnerability that I wish the writing could have provided more opportunities for, with Ball’s deep well of talent. He can hold a room like few others. 

A stand-out was Jilly Hanson as Sonya, Vany’a niece and the Professor’s somewhat abandoned daughter. Hanson displayed a skillset and a stage presence that assured me I will be watching her carry great roles for many years to come. 

The titular character of Vanya was played by the marvelous Ian Murphy. Murphy embodied Vanya, his dark humor and his hidden pain, completely. In such a small theatre space, Murphy’s energy filled the stage, and there was a charisma that sprang from his Vanya that moved like a swarm of bees to antagonize the other characters. 

But the performance of the night was undoubtably Scott Shannon as Dr. Astrov. His careful and detailed portrayal of the Doctor was funny, painful, and thoughtfully rendered. Shannon was able to be multiple things at once, carrying the weight of the world while also filling close, romantic moments with a sort of optimistic surrender. At the end of the night, this wonderful piece of theatre stayed with me, but although my head knew that actors were getting into cars and driving home to Fredericton, in my heart I was sure that Dr. Astrov was climbing into a horse drawn carriage for his twenty-mile journey home to his estate. Perhaps along the way he would stop to pick some roses. Sad roses, autumn roses. 

Uncle Vanya was performed at the TNB’s Open Space Theatre from Nov. 4 to Nov 6 in a limited engagement. 

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