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Adapted and Directed by Lori Wolter Hudson
Produced by Three Day Hangover
At Russian Samovar 256 West 52nd St., NYC Thursdays, Friday and Saturdays 7:30 pm
Through March 4th
Reviewed by Larry Littany Litt February 3, 2017
Depressed? Unhappy? Miserable? Resigned to a life of drudgery? What to do? According to Three Day Hangover’s adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” we must party hearty, drinking until we can’t remember why we’re drowning in self pity. Then drink some more. All with friends in the same boat. Or in this case the same lavish Russian bar upstairs at Russian Samovar restaurant and vodka lounge.
If you don’t know Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” here’s my one minute synopsis: it’s a drama about middle aged Russian farmer’s angst caused by unrequited love. It takes place over a rainy, cold night in a rural country farmhouse where various family members and equally depressed locals confess their undying love for others to family members and friends who then betray them. No one gets what they want from anyone. Escape is the only way out. Situations begin and end is pretty much the same place. Every character is left in a pitiful mental state. This play proves misery loves company in classic melodrama. It’s all very Russian play with much psychological damage done in the name of status, love and egotistical and duplicity. The closest we mentally healthy Americans get to this are the plays of Eugene O’Neill. And who can sit through one of those any more?
What makes “Drunkle Vanya” stand apart from our normal audience play engagement is continuous drinking of vodka shots and bottled ICE beer by both cast and audience. Audience members are lifted out of their very comfy couches, chaises and love seats, asked completely hilarious questions then rewarded with shots or bottles of ICE beer which they must ‘chug’ to the combined cast and audience crescendo chants of “Chug, chug, chug!” until the players and audience go on just a little drunker and happier than before.
Yet with all the drinking and party games this brilliant cast is revealing the dysfunctional inner lives of their wretched characters. Joel Rainwater as Vanya is wildly energetic and dynamically miserable as the victim of The Professor played to elitist, condescending perfection by Sean Tarrant. Christopher Tocco’s interpretation of Dr. Astrov gave me an insight into the passionate indulgences of an educated country doctor who expects little from local people and much from his researches into history and natural phenomena.
Tocco’s work with Amanda Sykes who as Yelena is proof that there’s fascination in onstage dialogues of frustration and passion played for ribald comedy. Sykes is a comedienne par excellence with just the right touch of sincerely and tongue in cheek satire. No wonder all the men in the house crave her attention.
Leah Walsh’s Sonya, the Professor’s plain daughter is the dedicated farm manager making sure the farm produces income for this family. Along with her Uncle Vanya she stays behind when everyone else leaves the house forever because they’ve had enough of the night’s misery caused by their family. They will stay behind to live out their dismal lives as small farmers. As Sonya implies in her closing speech, “I have my faith that I will go onto a better place where I will be happy. You Vanya must have it too.”
Josh Sauerman’s Waffles the Servant adds the much needed, self-deprecating comic relief and earthy wisdom into this mix of highly agitated passion. He knows they’re all doomed so why not have a good time.
In fact all of us here in Russian Samovar‘s Tolstoy Room had a very good time. I’m sure Chekhov would have loved this adaptation once he got into the swing of it by joining in the party and having a few vodkas.
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