Story: Guests are welcomed to the patio on Serebryakov’s country estate, where the maid Marina serves drinks and hors d’ouvres. Serebryakov inherited the home and land after the passing of his first wife. He lives as a retired professor in the city with his second wife, young and beautiful Yelena, while his country property is tended by his first wife’s brother Vanya and niece Sonya.
The impoverished Telegin, nicknamed Waffles because of his pockmarked face, stays on the land, while Vanya’s mother Maria Voynitsky dwells there as well.
Doctor Astrov, a frequent visitor to the estate, bemoans his boring life to Marina. He’s not the only one thinking about what might have been, however. Vanya chafes at his failure to attain greatness, yearning to be the next Tolstoy. Meanwhile, Sonya pines with unrequited love for the restless Astrov, who views her only as a pleasant, and plain, friend.
The arrival of Serebryakov and Yelena livens up the group for a couple of reasons. The professor announces his intention to sell the estate so that he and Yelena can live even more comfortably. Vanya angrily questions what will happen to him, his mother and niece. Also, Vanya is in love with Yelena and regrets that he didn’t marry her when he had an opportunity a decade earlier.
Astrov is infatuated as well with the beguiling Yelena, who alternately spurns and encourages the advances of the men. We follow this group from the patio into the home’s living room, kitchen and study, being careful to stay out of their way and yet also enticed by the complexity of their lives. Can any of them truly find happiness?
Highlights: Rebel and Misfits Productions’ second piece in its “Immersive Theatre Project” is a charming, inspired adaptation of Chekhov’s forlorn story about the unfulfilled lives of Mother Russia’s often lonely citizens.
Other Info: Kelly Hummert, Rebel and Misfits founder and artistic director, utilizes an actual home that is for sale in Ladue as an ideal location for the “immersive theater” concept. She’s updated Chekhov’s late 19th century drama with references to the environment, climate change and other contemporary concerns. However, the stifled creativity and thwarted passions of these dark Russian characters remain.
Hummert has assembled a first-rate cast who address the frustrations and anguish of Chekhov’s lost souls in arresting fashion, which feels even more acute with an audience in such proximity to the players. Christina Sittser’s costumes convey both the look and social class of the various characters, in both 19th century and more modern outfits, who wend their way through the spacious estate. Set designers Hummert and Jordan Woods integrate the story into actual areas at the home which correspond to scenes in the original play.
For Uncle Vanya, this works exceedingly well, particularly when one is greeted at the manor by Donna Weinsting as the gracious Marina, who extends hospitality to arriving guests and audience alike. Weinsting plays the role to the hilt, sitting quietly in the background knitting when her character isn’t catering to the whims of her employers.
Andrew Neiman fully embodies the restless spirit of Vanya, whether roaming the spacious yard, napping in a nearby swing or leaping at the arrival of the coveted Yelena. He’s affecting as he clamors for the attention of the disarming young woman, who in turn is portrayed in fully convincing fashion by Sophia Brown. As Yelena, Brown flirts knowingly with Vanya and Astrov, satisfying her desire for attention at the expense of the men’s lusting, restless hearts.
Jim Butz presents an Astrov who is frustrated with the lonely ways of the country life, consumed by his passion for the alluring Yelena and yet cruelly oblivious to the yearnings of the long-suffering Sonya. As the quietly lovelorn niece, Francesca Ferrari conveys Sonya’s life of quiet desperation with dignity and the faintest of hope that Astrov will return her love, while dutifully handling the day-to-day chores of running Serebryakov’s fortune, with or without Vanya’s aid.
Peter Mayer rages as the perennially whiny professor, whose thoughts are first and foremost about his own and his wife’s comfort, with anyone else a consideration after the fact. His professor is obsessed with his own aging and mortality but offers little in compassion for others.
Suzanne Greenwald and Kent Coffel complete the highly accomplished cast as Vanya’s unsympathetic mother Maria Voynitsky and the ingratiating Telegin, who knows well his lowly place in the pecking order at the estate and spends his time acceding to the wishes of the others.
Hummert brings a leisurely pace to this presentation while maintaining its allure and whimsy throughout, shrewdly moving the audience into various rooms with an orderly and genial approach. It’s especially enjoyable to sip a vodka cocktail at intermission with the best of Russian civility.
Uncle Vanya is one of Chekhov’s true masterpieces. This new take on his view of universal concepts of love, longing and loneliness is given an invigorating and refreshing approach in Rebel and Misfits' “immersive” adaptation.
Play: Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Agony
Company: Rebel and Misfits Productions
Venue: Private residence, 110 Dielman Road
Dates: August 31, September 1, 2, 3
Tickets: $30-$45; visit www.theimmersivetheatreproject.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Rebel and Misfits Productions