Just as there are few actual coincidences in film, it ought to come as no surprise, but thanks to exquisite planning, that Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya follows directly on the heels of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Both playwrights use everyday events and largely unremarkable characters (more in terms of accomplishment than passion and personality) to prod, push and cajole their audiences to look deeper into themselves than their own bland existences allow.
A further intriguing bit of glue between the two plays is their final lines:
Wilder: You get a good rest too. Good night.
Chekhov: We shall rest!
In her final year as artistic director, Jackie Maxwell will soon “rest” from her role as leader of one of the world’s finest repertory companies. Free from the day-to-day burden of making sure the “plays run on time,” we can only look forward to more of her work in singular projects with troupes everywhere.
Beginning her Shaw stint in 2002, one of Maxwell’s early productions (2003) was Susan Coyne’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Fourteen years later, her vision for Uncle Vanya is a remarkable testament to her own personal growth in the intervening years, but also to the growth and maturity of the company she has so lovingly nurtured and challenged. Successor Tim Carroll is a lucky man indeed; here’s hoping he will continue to build on the legacy he is inheriting.
Maxwell and her veterans magically bring the deliberately slow moving tale of family dysfunction to marvellously pathetic life.
In the title role, Neil Barclay delivers the performance of a career, finding every nuance in the words and rendering every gesture with an ease and depth that must be seen to be appreciated.
Moya O’Connell has just the right touch of cool on the outside, frustrated heat on the inside as she plays the young wife, Yelena, with a husband who ought to be her grandfather.
Appearing to be more sister than step-daughter, Marla McLean climbs every emotional mountain from quiet angst with the upheaval in the family when her father moves back home with this second wife to almost-sincere reconciliation with a step-mother who is on the brink of taking a chance and actually living instead of merely existing.
Patrick McManus paints a totally believable portrait of the doctor cum environmentalist, Astrov, whose life’s desire stands before him but may as well be in another hemisphere.
The principals and remainder of the cast (notably Donna Belleville in quiet, matriarchal form) work together seamlessly/desperately, knowing instinctively what Maxwell requires and delivering that in every scene.
Sue LePage’s appropriately sparse set, gently lit by Rebecca Picherack, contributes much to the mood and tone. Paul Sportelli’s discreet score along with Peter Millard’s (as Telegin) guitar stylings are the musical icing on this, for those who choose to sup, multilayered cake of trying to find enough light to actually see what is going on below the deceptively soothing surface of everyday existence.
With such a nuanced, inventive and meaningful result, Maxwell has earned her rest indeed. JWR