If you’re a Chekhov purist, Nurkan Erpulat’s Uncle Vanya at the Maxim Gorki may prompt head scratching. But it’s also lively and fresh, even if some moments descend into distracting silliness.
On a fundamental level, the play hasn’t changed. The action centers on a rural estate, cared for by Sonya, the daughter of a professor, and her uncle Vanya. As it opens, the professor has returned to the estate with his much younger wife, which provides a perfect Chekhovian opportunity for the characters to confront their unhappiness.
But it’s immediately clear Erpulat isn’t taking a traditional approach. In the first scene, we’re in the garden of the estate, with the characters sitting on rusty camping chairs at a long wooden table. Real chickens circle the stage. Not what Chekhov called for, but okay – except for when the clucking birds cause the audience to erupt into laughter just as a character is on the verge of psychological revelation.
The actors, however, speak their lines with remarkable precision. Tim Porath as Vanya and Mareike Beykirch as Sonja are marvelous, delivering Chekhov’s sparse prose in a way that conveys both tragedy and comedy. Erpulat also breaks down the fourth wall: Actors jump off the stage, acknowledge the audience and interact with theatre equipment. When Vanya confronts the professor, the professor leaps into the audience and Vanya must shout – thus laying bare his tragedy. The scene is energetic and gripping, no clucking or confetti required.
UNCLE VANYA Jun 26, 30, 19:30 | Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.