Write All Nite’s been all quiet on the news front of late.
Leave it to one of the best revivals this writer’s ever seen to don my newsy cap once more.
Not only is New York being granted the privilege of the presence of Richard Nelson’s transcendent take on Anton Chekhov’s holy Uncle Vanya, which I made sure to catch during its world premiere engagement at San Diego’s Old Globe (#HometownRepresent!); the production will also cut the ribbon on Hunter College’s foray into professional stagings.
Information on the program is scant as of yet, but if they plan to import — and, perhaps, even produce — such top-shelf theatrical enterprises, then, best case scenario, the fledgling program could become New York’s version of New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center, or Massachusetts’ Williamstown Theatre Festival, or San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, or any other first-rate theatre located on a college campus. It’s a great way to share resources and expertise between the perpetually-underfinanced theatre community and those aspiring to enter it. And, I trust the leadership of Gregory Mosher, who revived Lincoln Center Theater to the prominence it continues to enjoy to this day.
(Full disclosure: I struck up somewhat of a relationship with Mr. Mosher when we were both at Columbia — he as the head of the university’s initiatives to open up avenues to students to take advantage of the city’s overflowing arts scene, me as a lowly freshman doubling as the theater editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator, the school’s primary newspaper — so I’m admittedly a bit biased. But Greg, my man, if you’re reading this, let’s sit down for another interview; the people want to know more about your new position at Hunter!).
Anyone familiar with the previous masterstrokes of the theatrical painter that is Richard Nelson — The Apple Family Plays quartet, and The Gabriels trilogy, both of which were produced at the Public Theater (it’s surprising his New York home didn’t agree to mount this one too), and both of which were robbed of Pulitzer Prizes MULTIPLE YEARS — will be familiar with this Uncle Vanya’s aesthetic temperature: substantively muted. Over the aforementioned seven plays, Nelson developed a signature style of anti-theatricalism that, when juxtaposed with conventional performativity, becomes noticeably theatrical in comparison.
Besides the microphones hovering over the stage — and the precisely chosen songs that act as transitory interludes between scenes — every component of his directorial stamp avoids the strides that most productions take to engross the audience. The ensemble speaks naturally, with no projecting, pregnant pauses, nor most other actorly techniques designed for the benefit of the viewer. The lights remain consistent, which is to say static. The blocking pays no attention to sight-lines. Nelson’s in pursuit of nothing more than truth, depicting life as lived. And yet, the transparent attention to every detail reveals just how many tics, and how much shtick, most theatre mindlessly relies on, almost as if those involved just assume that the normal form is the best form.
As a playwright, Nelson crafts Chekhovian stories of families whose personal lives are inextricable from the political climate, dissecting and, ultimately, enlightening both in the process (there’s a reason Chekhov is name-dropped by both the Apples and Gabriels). Inviting back some of his usual suspects — including Jay O. Sanders, an EveryDad who turns in a towering lead performance in the title role — ensures this Uncle Vanya converses with his cycle dramas, which in turn are placed in the direct lineage of Chekhov’s oeuvre.
But more than just self-serving vanity, Nelson applying his vision to a classic text breathes fresh life into the fallback stuffiness of most revivals. Hearing and seeing anew such an oft-produced landmark is the sort of experience seasoned theatergoers search far and wide to find. Hopefully they’ll be willing to venture to Hunter College next month for this unforgettable evening with Vanya and Sonia and Mosher and Dick.