By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Eddie Bledsoe's set consists of a bare hardwood floor on which pieces of Victorian-era furniture are judiciously placed and replaced by the actors. Behind the floor stands a backdrop suggesting a cloudy sky. Near the top, far above the actors' heads, stretches a shelf packed with a long row of vodka bottles, all tilted slightly to the right, in perfect harmony. This is a visual wink, a suggestion of the whimsy with which Kronis, Alger and Chekhov treat the end of the world. Because all of Chekhov's plays are, ultimately, comedies about our mortality.
The quartet consists of Vanya (Mark Skeens), an administrator on the estate of the aging professor Serebriakov (Derrick Oshana). There's also a destitute landowner named Telegin, nicknamed "Waffles" (Ernesto Cayabyab) because of his pockmarked face, and of course the good doctor Astrov (Jacxon Danyels).
Add to the quartet a Stage Manager (Kevin Chambers) attired in black and plugged into a headset, who helps move furniture, and reminds self-absorbed characters such as Astrov that everybody's waiting for his exit.
It's a youthful ensemble in a play largely about aging. This might create a disconnect were Kronis' staging not so much about pristinely executed movement. With ballroom elegance, they swirl and dance, often with one another, between snippets of dialogue such as, "What will they think of us in a hundred years?"
Kronis and Alger's sound track accompanies all this with themes ranging from a Henry Mancini motif every time the play's offstage female muse, Yelena, wanders by, to earthy, gutteral sounds of a Ukrainian folk band, sounds that resemble Gogol Bordello.
A samovar descends from a pulley and lands perfectly on a desk that's been placed there moments before the teapot's arrival from the stratosphere. Two characters build a delicate house of cards, which a third destroys, for no reason. And that's how Chekhov's theme of pointless destruction is visualized. A house of cards, temples of delusion: Somebody was too lazy or greedy to worry about the consequences of a decimated forest or an oil spill upon that house of cards, which was supposed to shelter us from storms. The final acts of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard are about departures from such houses of cards after reality sets in.
Anton's Uncles is a beautiful and exuberant riff, weighing in at less than 70 minutes. I wish some of its profundities were allowed to linger, even for a split second more. Chekhov's characters are ditherers, leading to the trap of passivity in so many productions. Kronis takes it the other way. Anton's uncles have an appointment with oblivion, and they're not going to be late.
At a private Victorian home in Angeleno Heights, Oasis Theater Company presents a site-specific production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. It opens on a patio behind the house, with an interlude for Act 3 inside the house, where the audience is in invited to nibble snacks, or eat borscht or drink vodka, while outsider German Charlotta (Karen Foster) performs a magic act. Rachel Weir's costumes are sort of period: Ancient Firs (James Greene) dons a tuxedo, other characters show up in blue jeans. Characters drink tea from china cups next to plastic water bottles. One scene referring to the decadence of the 1860s (which would certainly apply to the 1960s) has been switched out to a reference to the space race. I don't know why.
The actors, including Nicole Farmer as estate owner Madame Ranevskaya; Mark Jeffrey Miller as her brother, Leonid; and Jerry Clark as son of a serf Yermolai; have the kind of naturalistic authenticity, much in the style of Louis Malle's film Vanya on 42nd Street, but in addition to a unifying concept, director James Carey has yet to find, or isolate, the play's turning points. One moment reveals the promise of what this production can be: In an arranged marriage scenario, Yermolai meets with Ranevskaya's adopted daughter, Varya (Zoey Sidwell), to propose. Instead, they talk about the weather. After Yermolai bolts, Sidwell's Varya tries to prevent her heart from shattering all over the patio, and with such power, you feel the Earth shifting in its orbit. Nice performance also by Eden Malyn as the maid, Dunyasha.
But this is very much a work in progress as Carey, like most people in the theater, are still trying to fathom how Chekhov best speaks to us, 150 years on.
Anton's Uncles, by Richard Alger, directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis distilled from ANTON CHEKHOV's play, Uncle Vanya, presented by Theatre Movement Bazaar at the 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 13. (213) 745-6516
The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, presented by Oasis Theatre Company at a private residence, 1417 Ridge Way, Angeleno Heights; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 6 p.m.; through June 20. (800) 838-3006.