UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov, directed by Lászl Marton, with Diego Matamoros, Liisa Repo-Martell, Albert Schultz, Kristen Thomson, Joyce Campion, Robert Haley, Charmion King, Michael Simpson and William Webster. Presented by Soulpepper at the du Maurier Theatre (231 Queen's Quay West). Runs to August 25, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee August 18 at 2 pm. $25-$43.50. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN
after last season's strong pro-duction of Anton Chekhov's early and unwieldy play Platonov, Soulpepper reunites pretty much the same artistic team for the Russian master's Uncle Vanya. No problems here with a baggy or unproven script, and absolutely no question about whether the troupe's earlier success was a fluke.
Chekhov's dark comedy centres on a country family who've slaved away unacknowledged for the success of one of their own. Now the prized family member is visiting with a second and much younger wife in tow, which results in the surfacing of unfulfilled lusts and resentments about wasted time.
László Marton's clear ideas about character, conflict and theme mean there's hardly a slack moment. Situations have a fresh inevitability about them and little details -- a character's secret drinking, the way someone settles into a chair -- add texture.
If a couple of the secondary characters are miscast, the four principals are impeccable. Kristen Thomson's young wife, who knowingly uses her beauty to provoke others, exudes sensuality and neurotic boredom, while Albert Schultz's idealistic doctor and Liisa Repo-Martell's hard-working and principled daughter take their life's lumps with restrained grace.
Diego Matamoros's Uncle Vanya -- nearly all the play's themes rest in that sad, pathetic title -- is particularly moving, especially in a scene where he snuggles up to an empty chair, imagining how his life might have been different.
Designer Kevin Lamotte suffuses the play with an autumnal, remains-of-the-day light, while Michael Levine captures the play's emotional messiness with a set that's claustrophobic but never hard on the eye.
Sure, there are some thumbprints. The act transitions are awkwardly handled, with characters moving furniture around in the dark. Repo-Martell's grungewear seems offputting, and a bit of music near the close feels fake and pompous.
But these are quibbles. Vanya is a play that means more the older you get, and Soulpepper does it justice.