I recently attended the Moscow State Mossovet Theatre's touring production of Дядя Ваня (or Uncle Vanya for those of you who somehow never learned to read the Russian alphabet) held at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on May 14th and 15th.
I suppose I could sum up the entire production in one word: Intense.
I can't claim much experience in attending productions from Russia, but if this is emblematic of their work, then definitely their approach is rather different from American companies. The actors and the director, the celebrated Andrei Konchalovsky, were thoroughly and unabashedly committed to their characters and in telling the story as vigorously and, yes, intensely as possible. The actors whispered, raged, stormed and fumed their way through this classic work. Not that there wasn't room for humor as well. Many don't realize that Chekov's work is almost uniformly comic even as it chronicles its characters' despair. This understanding was in evidence in the Mossovet production.
Pavel Derevyanko, as the titular Uncle, was particularly poignant, buffoonish and tortured in his portrayal. He clearly communicated Vanya's grasping for any kind of happiness as the enormity of his wasted life becomes clearer and clearer to him. Equally commendable was Yulia Vysotskaya as Vanya's niece Sonya, whose unrequited love for the local doctor poisons her attempts to soldier onward in accepting the bleakness of her life. Alexander Domogarov was intriguing as the doctor, Astrov. He played the character as both the brooding philosopher and as an aging lothario all too aware that he has gone to seed. As the beautiful Yelena, Natalya Vdovina was indeed radiant, but not afraid to reveal the shrill and baser aspects of her character. Alexander Filippenko as the aging professor Serebryakov was petulant and self-pitying, Alexander Borovsky as Telegin did his best to play the "fool" of the piece, and Irina Kartashova as the matriarch Maria was properly both fawning and distant. Larisa Kuznetsova, who rounded out the cast as Marina the nanny, chewed a bit too much of the scenery for my tastes, however.
Speaking of the scenery, the set was designed by the director, Konchalovsky. A spare, smallish platform with various set pieces and suggestions of walls and windows served to accent the suffocating lives of the characters. The authentic costumes were designed by Rustam Khamdamov and the atmospheric music was composed by Eduard Artemyev.
I must confess as a non-Russian speaker I was at a bit of a disadvantage in attending the production. I had expected super-titles, but instead was provided with an earpiece through which an uninspired and somewhat harried translator spoke the script as it was acted out on stage, not entirely in synch with the action. To make matters worse, during the final twenty minutes or so of the play my earpiece began to malfunction and all I could hear was a high-pitched tone. This certainly detracted from my ability to fully appreciate the performances on stage.
Also worth mentioning was the odd practice in this company of the stage manager walking on stage, quite visible and in street clothes (and not the black clothes that I am used to seeing American backstage crews wearing), and inspecting the set to make sure all was in order, then making a specific gesture to the lighting booth to signal that the action could proceed. It kind of took me out of the world of the play, but it may be a cultural thing, so I will reserve judgement on this practice.
Regardless, it was an interesting and culturally broadening opportunity and I am glad I was able to attend this production.