Residents of a postapocalyptic America seek connection in Vanya on the Plains | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Residents of a postapocalyptic America seek connection in Vanya on the Plains

The Artistic Home gives Jason Hedrick's world premiere about a grim future a life-affirming production.



More postapocalyptic plays about staging Chekhov in people's living rooms, please! The digital has eclipsed the physical in this new show by playwright and theater instructor Jason Hedrick, directed by Kayla Adams. Feral vagabonds snort across empty stretches of what used to be America. Cops make the rounds of the few outposts of organized human life that still exist on the fringe. There are barely any more phones or screens now, only an Internet of vivid, government-sanctioned visualizations, called "dives," that fuzz together dreams and reality past all distinction. Weeping in his chair is old man Elijah (Frank Nall), a "content moderator," the world's worst job (pruning gruesome imagery from feeds all day—which is already a real job, god help us). Somehow, Elijah gets it into his head that what he wants for his birthday is for his batty relatives and housemates to put on a production of Uncle Vanya, Elijah's favorite play. To which the family's response, all down the line, is a resounding What is a play?

Well, what is a play? In an age of increasing disconnection, what theater has to offer more and more is a rebellion of the embodied against pixelation unto death. This play delivers a subtle analysis of our need for contact, with performances to match; each character's journey leads in some guise or other from numbness to feeling, from alienation to closeness, from information to wisdom. Vanya continues a steady run of life-affirming winners from this storefront off Grand.  v

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