Driving the tree-lined lanes that twist through Ladue’s neighborhoods on my way to Rebel and Misfits Productions second immersive theatre project, Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Agony, I felt a sense of transformation. The county residence serving as the family estate is less than 30-minutes away from downtown, but feels removed, particularly in late summer when the trees and landscapes are in full bloom. Walking through the contemplative rock garden to the backyard patio, guests are greeted by a family staff member, affectionately called Nanny though there are no children currently in residence.
Once tea and sweets are in hand, take a seat and you’ll likely chat with the affable Telegin or discuss environmental issues with Dr. Astrov, or at least listen to him pontificate. All the while Vanya is skulking nearby and grandmother is watching through a large window. There’s a gentle breeze, a slight perfume to the air, but perhaps it’s just the Professor, his young wife Yelena, and daughter Sonya rounding the corner. The evening feels a bit like a charity party, though early on tensions between the family become apparent to more than just their closest friends. So unfolds the family drama that propels this adaptation of one of Chekov’s best-known plays.
Fans of the original play will not be disappointed in the intentionally intimate and immediate adaptation, written by director Kelly Hummert, who also fills the cast with seasoned actors who thoroughly internalize and inhabit their characters. The commitment enables the actors to hold conversations with the other guests that naturally integrate with the increasingly heated family interactions. The evening moves forward at a gracious, measured pace that belies the repressed anger, the barely suppressed sexual desires, and the open disdain hanging thick in the air.
Francesca Ferrari and Andrew Michael Neiman anchor the show as Sonya and her Uncle, Vanya. Peter Mayer, as the Professor, Sophia Brown, as Yelena, and Suzanne Greenwood as Mrs. Voitensky the Grandmother, are the other members of the family and at odds with the home’s permanent occupants. Jim Butz, as Dr. Astrov, Kent Coffel as Telegin, and Donna Weinsting as Marina the Nanny complete the cast.
The central characters drive the show with committed, nuanced performances. Ferrari and Brown are women with deep yearnings, exhausted by the effort of constantly stifling them to circumstances. Sonya is worn out from the weight of supporting the family and denying her feelings, her spirit is nearly broken but she refuses to bow. Yelena is bored, but perceptive, and weary of deflecting advances from men who are not her husband. Neiman and Butz are similarly discontented. Vanya is consumed by a deep ennui and as tired of plodding for other’s benefit as Sonya. Dr. Astrov is a prisoner to his passions. An environmental visionary, he nearly overshadows the family conflict with his drunken rambles and reckless affection. The stakes are high and an explosion feels imminent.
Hummert and her cast and crew create an experience that delivers the family’s story in an unusually intimate and personal setting infused with drama. The show moves from garden patio to living room, dining area, and study at a casual, measured pace. Cocktails and other beverages are served midway, the cast responds with a barely discernible relaxing of posture that’s countered by a sharpening of their tongues. The show surrounds the audience with a languid build, a heightening of the conflict that you can feel in your stomach, and the eventual release and resolution is forcefully affecting. At the end of the show, I found a few tears running down my cheek, a testament to the raw emotion infused in the powerful production.
Rebel and Misfits Productions second immersive theatre project, Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Agony digs deep into character and motivation in a show that pulls the audience in to the scene, creating a truly affecting and evocative experience. The show runs through September 3, 2017, with performances selling out quickly, and tickets must be purchased prior to attending, there is no ticketing available at the residence.
Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Agony
August 24 – September 3
Directed by Kelly Hummert
Tickets available at http://www.theimmersivetheatreproject.com/
Tina Farmer is a St. Louis-based theater critic and avid champion of local art, who daylights as a writer, user experience director, and digital strategist. A voting member of the Theater Circle and experienced actor, director, and scriptwriter, she brings a thoughtful perspective and open mind to the St. Louis theater scene.