Uncle Vanya | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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UNCLE VANYA, LiveWire Theater, at the Side Studio. From the theater that brought us a one-hour Macbeth comes this slimmed-down Chekhov, performed with props but no sets on an intimate storefront stage. Uncle Vanya delivers the dead-end desperation and midlife crises of the title character and his melancholy household in the form of unrequited love, elaborate regrets, emotional paralysis, and vodka chugging, as the characters punish one another and themselves for the dreams that died.

Working with a Mamet-style translation by Chicago writer Robert Tenges complete with expletives, director Chris Arnold plays up conflict rather than heartbreak. The bare-bones production puts an emphasis on the acting that's not always rewarded—and even with makeup, several actors look too young for their roles. David Kelch as Vanya—consumed by the thought that his life has been squandered—doesn't build his character's frustrations to the breaking point in the third act, offering the same grumbling resentment throughout. Deborah Craft's too-agreeable Sonya never seems ground down by her life or more than miffed to discover that the doctor she adores doesn't return her ardor. And Amber Hilgenkamp as the imperious young wife yoked to a washed-up scholar distances herself from her role as if it were a distraction. Fortunately Glenn Proud strikes the right balance between thwarted idealism and operatic self-pity as the doctor.

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