Blame it on global warming. No sooner does the climate get its own march than an Uncle Vanya arrives that makes you want to hug Astrov’s trees and chop down Voynitsky. To open its first season under Hal Brooks’s artistic direction, the Pearl Theatre Company revives Anton Chekhov’s tragedy of the wasted life but shears away its grandeur.
Paul Schmidt’s translation and Brooks’s direction aspire to a modern feel, but these converge like two storm fronts on the hardworking Astrov (Bradford Cover, as a millennial in a midlife crisis). He finds Vanya’s situation “stupid,”
considers himself a “freak,” and comes on to Yelena with
a Humphrey Bogart–clipped “sweetheart.” His noisy self-
absorption, aligned with an impassioned defense of the
environment, project him into the hero’s role, in the absence of any competition. In comparison, Chris Mixon’s Vanya is
a flailing castaway in the flotsam of his failed ambitions.
(His hysterical attempt to kill the Professor elicited audience laughter.) If Uncle Vanya is a rainforest of emotions, the Pearl struggles to find the right temperature to sustain it
for our coolly ironic times. As a china-doll Yelena, Rachel Botchan alone looks at home amid the Louis XV tables
and painted columns.
Chekhov is unmatched when it comes to whipping up tempests in the human psyche, but this aimless production could do worse than a little more Bogey, who summed it up in a hurricane-buffeted Key Largo: “When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.”