Review: FAU’s Uncle Vanya

FAU’s Uncle Vanya plants a seed and forgets to water it.

Christian+Mouisset%2C+Jeremy+Wershoven%2C+Ryan+Page%2C+Aubrey+Elson%2C+and+Kailey+Jones+in+FAU%E2%80%99s+production+of+Uncle+Vanya.+Photo+courtesy+of+Maria+Mor+Photography+and+Brand
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Review: FAU’s Uncle Vanya

Christian Mouisset, Jeremy Wershoven, Ryan Page, Aubrey Elson, and Kailey Jones in FAU’s production of Uncle Vanya. Photo courtesy of Maria Mor Photography and Brand

Christian Mouisset, Jeremy Wershoven, Ryan Page, Aubrey Elson, and Kailey Jones in FAU’s production of Uncle Vanya. Photo courtesy of Maria Mor Photography and Brand

Christian Mouisset, Jeremy Wershoven, Ryan Page, Aubrey Elson, and Kailey Jones in FAU’s production of Uncle Vanya. Photo courtesy of Maria Mor Photography and Brand

Christian Mouisset, Jeremy Wershoven, Ryan Page, Aubrey Elson, and Kailey Jones in FAU’s production of Uncle Vanya. Photo courtesy of Maria Mor Photography and Brand

Corey Rose, Contributing Writer

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In Uncle Vanya, the lines between actor and character are blurred. 

Anton Chekhov’s serio-comic play, originally written in 1898, made its way into FAU’s Department of Theatre and Dance on September 27th.

Uncle Vanya revolves around the inhabitants of a Russian estate and how their quiet lives are uprooted upon the arrival of a retired professor and his younger second wife. The professor’s daughter is in love with the town’s tree-hugging doctor, and the doctor competes with Uncle Vanya (the professor’s brother-in-law) for the love and attention of the professor’s wife. Chaos, misery, and excessive alcoholism ensues.

FAU’s Uncle Vanya includes a 30-minute pre-show in which actors adorn makeup, talk to fellow castmates, and bask in the last minutes of pre-performance rituals in full view of the audience. 

When the show starts, you’re plopped into the middle of an 1890’s Russian slice-of-life. The first two acts illustrate professional white men who are upset with their circumstances in life, with brief breaks for actor Christian Mouisset to mention how the rapid deforestation of the land surrounding the estate affects the environment. Sound familiar?

After the intermission, the lives of the characters delve into chaos. Yelena, the professor’s wife, kisses the doctor in the middle of her mission to find out if he’s in love with her stepdaughter. Vanya sees this and turns his rage on the professor, culminating in a wildly disarrayed gunfire display that would make the NRA giggle in pure ecstasy. The play ends with Uncle Vanya being talked out of suicide by his frantic niece, Sonya, who promises that all their suffering will be paid off in heaven.

A few conventions of traditional theatre are stripped away, such as the placement of actors on the sides of the stage rather than backstage when they are not engaged in a scene, and the addition of tree stumps placed haphazardly over the stage after the intermission. These half-baked statements about the environment and the relationship between the actor and the character lack the textual support to actually send the audience home with something meaningful. When the house manager steps onto the stage to introduce each act, you are reminded that she’s the only person of color on the stage. That, to me, makes a bigger statement than using a Papier-mâché tree trunk as a footstool.

The women in Vanya are its saving grace. Amidst the mayhem the men create for themselves, BFA acting student Brooke Berger practically steals the show as Marina, the family’s elderly nanny. MFA acting student Lauren Folland gives us a Yelena that is just as sharp as she is soft, and BFA musical theatre student Kailey Jones delivers a mainstage debut as the lovesick teenager Sonya that throws the audience back to the days of unrelenting high school crushes. MFA acting student Aubrey Elson wears the shoes of old Mrs. Voinitsky well, a born-too-soon feminist who often quarrels with Vanya over his lack of achievement.

Uncle Vanya raises questions regarding our responsibility to leave a better future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and for me, it manifested in the form of one question; when are we going to stop retelling these same stories of upper-class white problems from the 1800’s and start telling stories that reflect where we are as a diverse culture today? If you want a taste of some real, filling theatre these next two weekends, stop by NY Grilled Cheese and order a Broadway Classic.

But if not, Uncle Vanya is playing in Studio One at FAU until Oct. 6. For tickets, visit fauevents.com of call the box office at 561-297-6124.

Corey Rose is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].