UNCLE VANYA By Anton Chekhov, directed by László Marton (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To June 21. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. See Continuing/ Rating: NNNN
With six members of their acclaimed 2001 production reprising their roles, it’s no surprise that Soulpepper’s remount of Uncle Vanya is a brilliantly nuanced affair.
Set in czarist Russia, the play unfolds on a country estate owned by retired Professor Serebraikov (Joseph Ziegler) but managed by his former wife’s neurotic and frustrated brother Vanya (Diego Matamoros). The aging Serebraikov and his new young wife, Elena (Kristen Thomson), pay the estate a rare visit that rouses long-repressed emotions in the permanent residents.
Right off the bat, director László Marton jolts the audience and sets the dark tone with an unexpected clap of thunder and a rainstorm that ingeniously uses real water. The realistic tenor is extended by Michael Levine’s cluttered, highly functional set, which embodies the characters’ decaying opulence. While Uncle Vanya is at its core an unhappy play, Marton is able to tease out a steady stream of great comic moments, Vanya’s drunken sexual advances on an overturned chair being one of the best.
As Vanya, founding Soulpepper member Matamoros is exceptional. Exuding waves of lust, jealousy and bitterness, his Vanya teeters between indolent self-pity and homicidal mania with an unpredictability that feels wholly natural. While the entire cast is adept, Albert Schultz deserves a special mention for his portrayal of the insightful alcoholic Astrov, who, as a well-liked doctor with a penchant for environmentalism, serves as an effective foil to the wasted, petulant Vanya.