The audience enters the theatre to a sparse but quirky set - a handful of birch trees on wheels (a samovar at the base of one and a transistor radio hanging from another) all on a damask-stamped floor. At the top of the show, the actors walk out confidently and take their places. One of the actors begins to speak Capulet’s lines into a handheld microphone, “Welcome, gentleman! Ladies that have their toes…” he continues speaking but then eventually pauses and refers to the mic, “Is this thing on?” The audience responds eagerly, “NO.” They fix the technical issue and start again. It’s an amusing moment and we are not sure what is going on. In this ambitious new mashup from BEDLAM, playing at the A.R.T./New York Theatres, this is unfortunately not the last time we are confused.
Directed by the company’s Artistic Director Eric Tucker (who also plays Astrov), UNCLE ROMEO VANYA JULIET is, as the program states, both plays at the same time.
The concept is undeniably clever and creative. The staging in the round is beautifully fluid and the ensemble works well together. The adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by Kimberly Pau, while mostly recognizable, tosses in some colloquialisms - Yelena refers to Sonya as “baby-girl” and when the Professor enters being chased by a crazed Vanya he yells, “He’s gone postal!” This provides some levity, but what we are really yearning for in this piece is clarity.
Granted, most avid theatre goers are familiar enough with both Shakespeare and Chekhov to know the characters and plotlines. This writer, having a working knowledge of both Romeo and Juliet and Uncle Vanya (and a deep love for the latter), must admit they had difficulty following the action and left the theatre wondering; “What is the significance of putting these two plays together?”
It seems that Bedlam is not shying away from this confusion. In the program (that you do not receive until after the play’s completion) the performers are listed only as ‘ensemble’ rather than the role(s) they are playing and there is no synopsis of either play.
At its most dynamic, the counterpoint of the two plays adds great tension, especially in act two. When the vibrant Suzanna Szadkowski (who also plays Yelena) is reciting Juliet’s text while Vanya is trying to absorb the selling of the house, the moment is palpable and chaotic. And the act two climax feels like a feverish Shakespearean Dream. That said, this writer can’t help but wonder how an audience member could comprehend the action and remain engaged if they are not well-versed in one/both of the plays.
In the end (literally and figuratively), it is never a loss to sit in a theatre and hear the poetry of Shakespeare and Chekhov. Sonya’s final speech about redemption through work is the most connected moment of the evening. Delivered by absolute standout Susannah Millonzi, her honesty and emotional throughline provide a welcome grounding throughout the evening.
Recommended for the seasoned theatre goer who is well-versed in both Chekhov and Shakespeare, but not recommended for those without such knowledge.
Randolph Curtis Rand
Thru October 28
2PM matinees and 7 PM evening performances various dates
Allison Plamondon is a choreographer, director, teacher and performer originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Choreography highlights include the Oscar-winning short film, Curfew , Goblin Market at 59E59 Theaters and direction/choreography/conception for The Tchaikovsky Vignettes at HB Studio. An avid teacher, Allison has taught at Broadway Dance Center, Abrons Arts Center and is currently on the faculty at Tom Todoroff Acting Conservatory. Performance highlights include Tap City-the Main Event, Trying at Cape May Stage and performing with Phish at Madison Square Garden. Directors Lab West ‘17, Uta Hagen Teacher Training, NYFA immigrant artist fellow, SDCF Observership with Kathleen Marshall (City Center Encores).
Learn more at the Allison Plamondon website.
Read more about Allison Plamondon in this Picture this Post feature story - "Choreographer Allison Plamondon on Merce Cunningham".