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Uncle Vanya 

In Berkeley, an endearing, if somewhat clunky, version of Chekhov's eternal masterpiece

Wednesday, Dec 12 2001
It's a wonder that Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya isn't produced more frequently in the Bay Area. Although the script was written in late 19th-century Russia, it's hard to imagine a place in this world that could relate better than Berkeley to this timeless play. In it, the young wife of a has-been literary scholar unwittingly seduces the local forward-thinking doctor, who, as a vegetarian and major conservationist, mourns the loss of the forest and frets hopelessly about the insufferable hatred and pettiness that exists in the world. Subterranean Shakespeare delivers an endearing, if somewhat clunky, version of this eternal masterpiece at La Val's Pizzeria, starring an ambitious cast that is obviously devoted to the script, even if they do present it a bit unpolished. Michelle Barton is convincing as Sonya, the professor's plain daughter, who loves the doctor in the most severe, unrequited fashion; Brian Gruber is a charmingly unhappy Astrov, sporting a gigantic mustache (a great gag in the first scene, but somewhat distracting throughout the rest of the play). In the end, the team does a good job of illuminating the central point of Chekhov's work -- that is, the need to bring about social change through the gathering of liberal, like-minded folk.

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Karen Macklin


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