After last Thursday night’s curtain call, the audience at the Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club’s (KCDC) production of Uncle Vanya seemed quieter than one would expect for a crowd cleaving a performance.
Though the general consensus from audience members seems to be that the production, directed by Associate Professor of Drama and Film Ben Viccellio ’98, was well done, it initially left people stunned and pensive.
“I think that this one is such a slow burn of a play — and such a quiet play — that it took people a bit of time to wrap their mind around their response,” Clara Mooney ’17, an assistant director for the play, said.
Uncle Vanya tells the story of a Russian family in the late 1800s that risks falling apart when an extravagant professor and his young wife come to stay at the family home for the summer.
To bring this three-hour play to the stage, the cast and crew began working for three hours a day, five days a week since the cast was announced in late October.
“Even with the long hours, it has been an absolutely wonderful process,” Mollie Greenberg ’19, who played the professors daughter and Vanya’s niece Sonya, said. “A lot of the cast are seniors who have worked together before, so it’s very special to be able to work with them and get to know them this way.”
The length of the play was not the only challenge that the cast had to face — who also had to contend with difficult source material. Uncle Vanya was written in 1897 by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who, according to assistant director Natalie Kane ’18, is known for his complex and deep characters.
Though the play is incredibly long, it is not exactly plot-driven. Uncle Vanya shines the spotlight on the characters rather than the events — there is barely any action until late in Act III — which allowed the performances to shine.
“It’s both a very complicated play and a very simple play,” Kane said. “It’s Chekhov, so it’s complicated, but it’s really just a play about people who feel trapped.”
The group managed to get the story across succinctly and skillfully. The actors really understood their characters and managed to bring them to stage as believable and three-dimensional people. This is especially true for the titular role of Vanya, played by Alex Kirshy ’17.
Even those in the back rows of the Bolton Theater could feel the tremors of Kirshy’s performance as a man desperate for love and bitter about life. When Vanya laments this inability shoot someone, the pain and humor of the situation finds a harmonious balance in Kirshy’s acting.
A downside of this long and complicated play came any time there was an act break and the sets had to be moved. Uncle Vanya is split into four acts, but was only given one intermission in between acts two and three.
Having only one intermission was not a decision made by KCDC, according to Mooney, but by the company from which they procured the rights to the play. This meant that between acts one and two, as well as acts three and four, the audience was forced to sit and watch long set changes. The set itself was gorgeous: A large moon lit up the backdrop sky, and walls and windows hung from the ceiling, giving the set a very artistic feel. But in between the act breaks, the tech crew spent a long time fumbling with rearranging the set pieces.
With actors this good and a story interpretation that is this strong, elaborate set changes can take the audience out of the story. It would have been clear that the location had changed even if the back walls did not move. Guitarist Tim Gruber ’17, who performed during the scene changes, was skilled and entertaining, but couldn’t make up for the long wait in between acts.
This Uncle Vanya performance was beautiful, from the cast to the costumes to the set, but elements of the play could have been simplified.