By Christina Perryman
Watching Hedgerow Theatre Company’s current production of “Uncle Vanya,” Anton Chekhov’s classic tale, it was hard to believe the play first debuted more than 100 years ago. The themes of the story, including love, loss, bitterness, growing older, even deforestation, are ones that still resonate today. Told with dramatic yet often funny subtleties, the story unfolds under the excellent direction of Kittson O’Neill and features some of Hedgerow’s brightest.
“Uncle Vanya” is set in late 1800s Russia, however, I was glad the actors forwent the use of Russian accents. It wasn’t necessary. The story centers on Vanya and his niece, Sonya, who run Sonya’s late mother’s plantation. Sonya’s mother was Vanya’s beloved sister. The quiet industriousness of Sonya (Jennifer Summerfield) and Vanya (Adam Altman) is disrupted by the arrival of Sonya’s father, Aleksandr (John Lopes), a retired professor, and his beautiful, much younger wife, Elena (Jessical DalCanton). The group is often joined by Mikhail (Jared Reed), the local doctor and the object of Sonya’s unrequited love. The longer Elena and Aleksandr stay, the more problems arise for Sonya and Vanya. Vanya, who has long been in love with Elena, grows increasingly bitter about Elena’s rebuffs, especially after he catches Elena and Mikhail in an embrace. Things come to a head when Aleksandr declares he is selling the plantation (which is rightfully Sonya’s) so he and Elena can move back to the city.
Hedgerow’s cast is outstanding. Altman is passionate and interesting as Vanya. His impassioned monologue in Act I is wonderful. Reed has an impressive stage presence. He has the ability to hold and charge a pause that captures that audience’s attention. Lopes’ professor is a huge pratt, particularly in the first act. He is rude to his wife and daughter, pompous and full of himself and Lopes portrays that perfectly, carrying himself with air of superiority, even when ill.
DalCanton is lovely as Elena, very likable in the beginning of the play. Her air changes noticeably in the second act as Elena becomes more and more bored with life in the country. Summerfield is grounded as Sonya. Her dislike, or more distrust, of DalCanton’s character is perfectly executed and Sonya’s love for Mikhail is evident in the tones of Summerfield’s voice and expression.
Although there is much sadness in the play, there is also plenty of humor, clever one lines and quips. I very much enjoyed the trio of Penelope Reed, Zoran Kovcic and Irma J. Mason.
Costumes by Sarah Mitchell were well chosen and the set was simplistic, however, the chairs used in many scenes appeared too modern. The show moved a good clip and kept the audience engaged.
“Uncle Vanya” runs at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, through March 5. Tickets are $34 for adults, $31 for seniors and $20 for those aged 30 and younger. For tickets or information, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.hedgerowtheatre.org.