Nebraska Wesleyan University presents a mature, well-acted production of Anton Chekhov’s classic tragicomedy, “Uncle Vanya.” Adapted by David Mamet and directed by Theatre Department Chairman Jack Parkhurst, this version of “Uncle Vanya” is rife with the misery and despair of the characters trapped in their dull lives and with each other.
The play’s conflict comes with the introduction of visitors from the city invading the staid life of a country estate. Alexander, played by Patrick O’Hare, and his beautiful, young second wife, Yelena (Jill Meyer), appear at the family home occupied by Alexander’s daughter from his first marriage, Sofya, her grandmother and her uncle Vanya, and wreak havoc on the routinized lives of its occupants. Also present is a visiting doctor, the burned- out but idealistic Mikhail Astrov.
Vanya is a hypochondriac, seductive Yelena idle, Alexander bitter and Mikhail a drunk. Sofya is plain and jealous of Yelena and in love with Mikhail, who is unaware of her feelings for him. At times, the show plays like a Czarist-era reality show, with the self- absorbed characters acting out by barking embarrassing revelations in drunken diatribes or contemplating infidelity. They pour out their grievances in long-winded monologues and back-stab relentlessly. But we are also privy to tenderness between the family members and the love, at times born of boredom and at times from sincere admiration, that the characters feel for each other and their home.
Kiel Walker, who plays Vanya, delivers a riveting performance. His boozy, sleep-deprived fatigue is palpable. Walker manages to convey the character’s sardonic loathing that almost, but doesn’t quite, mask his depth of sadness and regret. Other notable performances include Meyer’s Yelena, Christopher Bott’s charismatic portrayal of Mikhail and Kaitlin Klemencic’s intelligent, subtle portrayal of Sofya.
NWU’s “Uncle Vanya” is a fine effort worthy of the playwright who, as the director notes, “brought theatre into the present.” It was a pleasure to see these well-trained students do it such justice.