Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review of Rasaka Theatre Company's Vanya (or "That's Life!")

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Vanya (or "That's Life!"). It was adapted from Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by Lavina Jadhwani. It was directed by Kaiser Ahmed. This is an adaptation of Uncle Vanya, not the original Uncle Vanya because it went from the final act to the first act. It was about Vanya (Rom Barkhordar) and his niece Sonya (Puja Mohindra), and they live together with a friend of the family, Waffles (Raj Bond), and a nanny, Marina (Allison Cain). But then Vanya's brother-in-law Alexander (Bill Chamberlain) comes with his new, young wife Yelena (Tiffany Renee Johnson) because they want to take a break from the city. Vanya's problem is that he is angry with Alexander because he has done everything for Alexander, but Alexander is not as successful or brilliant as Vanya thought he would be. There is a doctor named Astrov (Richard Costes) who came to help with Alexander's health and Sonya has fallen in love with him, but so has her stepmother Yelena, but Astrov doesn't like Sonya back. I thought this was an interesting show; it made me think about how important stakes and structure are to Chekhov and theater in general.

It is definitely a challenge for actors to go backwards through a story, especially if it is a very high stakes show and the climax is very big. The stakes are high for the characters in Vanya. There is a marriage that could be ruined; there is a family that could be disconnected; there are people that could die, and there are people whose hearts could break. Knowing what is going to happen to all the characters at the end of the story at the beginning of the play kind of deflates the stakes. I do think it is important to have an element of mystery to a show in order for it not to be boring. In this version of the play, the mystery of the play ends up being how will the show work if we already know the ending. That is a very interesting question to ask and I think it must have been fun for the people making the play to figure out because you don't usually get to ask a question like that when you are doing such a well-known show. It can be difficult to have an ending that wasn't specifically written to be an ending. The end of act one of Uncle Vanya does not not seem like the end of a play at all. So, in this adaptation, they use direct address to the audience to make it seem more like an ending. Everyone talks to the audience about how they can maybe do this part now because they are stronger and they have gone through it so many times.

There was a lot of breaking the fourth wall in this show, and a lot of it made you feel a part of the show. Like some characters had physical contact with the audience. The nanny brought tea to one of the audience members. I thought it was great how the characters used pop tunes and performed them in a less poppy way than they are usually played. That was a really fun way to show the difference this show had from other Uncle Vanyas. It made it feel more modern. I think I felt most connected to Waffles and the nanny because they seemed to have genuine relationship with each other and with the audience. They seemed to trust us with their deepest darkest secrets, like the person who they've loved for as long as they can remember or why their marriage ended. I felt like they were really addressing us instead of just talking to themselves. Sometimes other times the direct address didn't work for me, like when some of the actors seemed to be talking out toward the audience but not talking to us.

People who would like this show are people who like reworked Chekhov, pop songs, and tea. I thought this was an interesting experiment and it had a lot of intriguing elements. Even though this isn't my favorite version of this play, I thought it was worth my time because of how different it was.

Photos: Scott Dray

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