Uncle Vanya is the most beautifully orchestrated of all Chekhov’s plays, and it’s also, essentially, bulletproof: If you’ve seen it in a college production — Vanya’s hair dusted “gray” with powder, old nanny radiating health and youth — you know it can survive anything. That strength is the core, even the fetish, of the delightful Minor Character, in which experimental ensemble New Saloon peppers Chekhov’s tragicomedy with postmodern strategies. Not each of its staging gimmicks works, but the production does, turning a play that has been an autumnal meditation on aging into a spring-green forum on youth’s discontents.
Steered by director Morgan Green, the largely excellent cast performs various translations simultaneously. Even more bewildering, multiple actors also often play a single role; scenes occur in triplicate. Yet all this hullabaloo doesn’t confuse the core drama, the love plot entangling earnest Sonya, roguish Astrov, alluring stepmother Yelena, and sad-sack Uncle Vanya. Some roles do work conventionally — Vinie Burrows and David Greenspan anchor the show in the (age- and gender-appropriate) roles of Maria and Serebriakov, respectively. But middle-aged Waffles is played by the cherubic playwright Milo Cramer in yellow high-tops, and the best of the Astrovs is actually the elegant, young actress Madeline Wise. So are we still in Chekhov country? Assuredly yes. The essentials remain: wisdom, sweetness — and melancholy, too. That last one seems to be grabbing ahold of people younger and younger these days. How on earth did Chekhov know?
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time
Directed by Morgan Green
The Invisible Dog Art Center
51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn
Through June 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 21, 2016