Review "Uncle Vanya": Classic Witty Drama

Strawdog Theatre presents

Uncle Vanyavanya

At 3829 N. Broadway

Written by Anton Chekhov

Translated by Curt Columbus

Directed by Kimberly Senior

Thru March 27th

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Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes includes a ten minute intermission


Vanya loves Yelena. Sonya loves Astrov. Yelena loves excitement. Astrov loves vodka. Strawdog Theatre presents Curt Columbus’ translation of the Anton Chekhov classic, Uncle Vanya. Penned in the late 1890’s, Uncle Vanya is an original depiction of the strife of blended families. Vanya’s sister has died. Because the family estate was her dowry, it passes to her husband, Serebryakov. For twenty-five years, Vanya, his niece Sonya and his mother have managed the estate and supported Serebryakov in his academic endeavors. Serebryakov and his young, beautiful second wife, Yelena have come to vacation at the estate. With willful obtuseness, the couple change life on the estate to suit their own personal whims. No one is working or sleeping and everyone is drinking to excess. Uncle Vanya is what happens when hard working and entitled family members are forced to coexist under the same roof. Its havoc and murder is in the makings.

Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10  Photo by Chris Ocken Copyright 2010 -

Over hundred years ago, Anton Chekhov created characters that are still relatable in their quests to find happiness. Balancing between bitter and love struck, Tom Hickey (Vanya) is authentically depressing as a 47 year old bachelor with nothing of his own. Sonya (Michaela Petro) has a vulnerable earnest as the optimistic forgotten daughter. Throughout the show, there is a repeated sympathy for “poor plain Sonya” that doesn’t quite connect. Petro needs to ugly it up a bit! Kyle Hamman (Astrov) is hilarious as a drunk, tree loving doctor. Shannon Hoag (Yelena) drifts aimlessly through scenes with men throwing themselves at her. It is hard to find the empathy for a victim of pretty girl syndrome until Yelena describes her marriage to an older man as “being a minor character in the final act.” The object of affection and annoyance, Tim Curtis (Serebryakov) plays his role with pompous, self absorption. Under the skillful direction of Kimberly Senior, the cast find the humanity and the humor in unrequited love between a man and a woman, mother and son, husband and wife, father and daughter, doctor and tree.

Not quite in the round, Uncle Vanya is more of a semi circle with audience viewing from two adjacent sides. The set, designed by Tom Burch, is charming, country elegance. The walls are a lace type mesh which when lit (Sean Mallary) reveals minor action offstage. It adds to the illusion of a house where a family member is just in the next room. Senior stages the play with characters entering and exiting together in conversation. This also builds an intimate rapport between the audience and the family’s inner workings. After the shock of a particular chaotic scene, Senior paces the final scene in slow mode to show the effect of life returned to “normal.”

Uncle Vanya could be considered a downer, especially because the characters’ relate-ability could force you to examine your own life’s shortcomings. Certainly, I can see myself as a passionate tree loving, plain, 47 year old bachelor who attracts the affection of the wrong men. But it doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me laugh. Theatre wants to connect with you in life changing ways. In Anton Chekhov‘s own words, “The truth is less terrifying than the unknown.” Experience Uncle Vanya at Strawdog Theatre, then return to your life already in progress and make changes or don’t. Your choice!

Managing my estate for over ten years, Bill describes the show as “depressing, gloomy, witty.”


On a snowy Sunday evening, I decide on dining at Finley Mahoney’s, 3701 N. Broadway.  It’s en route to the theatre.  I love the Cubano sandwich.  Plus, they have wi-fi with a side of cabernet!  By taking pleasure in the simple things in life, I avoid becoming a tragic figure in a self-created Anton Chekhov drama.  This skill has stopped me from shooting my brother-in-law on many occasions.

Uncle Vanya photograph courtesy of Chris Ocken.

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