David Hirzel

Performing Arts Reviews

Birdbath’s “Uncle Vanya” in San Rafael—Perhaps It’s a Wake-Up Call

Jesse Brownstein’s adaptation of the Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” is unrelentingly gloomy—souls lost in a miasma of nothing to do, roaming about wallowing in the purposelessness of their lives.  Perhaps it’s a wakeup call:  “One hundred years from now, the people who come after us, for whom our lives are showing the way—will they think of us kindly? Will they remember us with a kind word? I wish to God I could think so.”

The talented Rob Garcia as Vanya is certainly memorable whenever he is onstage—passionate, argumentative, self-pitying, defensive, and ultimately protective of his sister Sonya (Winona Wagner) and the legacy of the estate they share and must fight to hold onto.  It is a fight that each, by turns, wonders whether it is worth the effort.

Yet hope glimmers through.  There is a separate chance at love’s redemption—but it is only a chance, never quite fulfilled as the chill and reserved Yelena (Claire Champommier) and the country doctor Astrov (Jesse Lumb), having once fallen into forbidden love and attempted a single kiss, must inevitably part.

Garcia and Jesse Lumb share kudos for outstanding performance.  Both are fully realized, Astrov  (as the country doctor Astrov) in his self-absorbed persona as the consummate environmentalist of the day, more devoted to preserving the forest for future generations that will neither know nor care about him, while right before him the patient Sonya stands in the shadows silently begging for his attention..  She will never get it.  Shallow Astrov cannot see the utter devotion hidden behind her face, a face she and he both are doomed to see as nothing more than ugly.

Kudos also to director David Abrams, whose inspired direction reaches its apogee in the scene wherein Astrov, waxing lyrical about his plans to preserve the forest, remains oblivious to the forbidden charms as Yelena entwines herself into his arms and then pulls away again unnoticed, into her remote, reserved, and almost unreachable self.  It is a mesmerizing, and perfectly realized, vision of how each of these tortured characters are unable to see beyond their self-imposed mirrors.

In the end, it is Vanya and Sonya who keep their old commitments, their well-worn ways, in the hope of salvaging the estate–their birthright, their own hope for a future.

The set is the essence of minimalist—the Belrose’s piano, handful of chairs between double rows of seating facing each other—and even fewer props to manage.  Everything brought to audience attention by skillful acting and direction—all that’s really needed.  Andrew Byars’ score of (live) classical guitar and cello provides just the right notes of haunting melancholy.

Look for Birdbath again.  This upstart company, so small in its productions that the audience is necessarily close to, even a part of the drama, yet big in its ambitions.

Run:  October 26-November 18, 2018.

  • Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm.
  • Sundays, November 11 & 18 at 2pm

At:  The Belrose Theater
1415 5th Ave.
San Rafael, CA 94901

Birdbath Website:  https://www.birdbaththeatres.com/

Box Office:  Uncle Vanya

Review by:  David Hirzel

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