Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov. Moonlight directed by Martha Ibrahim at ANU Arts Centre Drama Studio, May 17-21, 2005, 8pm (Matinee Saturday 2pm). Tickets at the door or phone 6125 5491 or dinner and show package 6257 2718.
It's a bit scary to watch Dr Mikail Astrov (Sana Vasli), 110 years ago, demonstrate how the natural forest cover in his native Russia has declined from one half, to one third, to almost zero in the previous 40 years. He cannot understand why people cannot see that if they continue to destroy the environment in their struggle for survival, their survival can only be for the short term before final collapse. Shades of Jared Diamond.
Moonlight's production is great to see not just for Chekhov's prescience concerning issues like this, but particularly for showing so clearly how destructive attitudes on the big issues play out in personal relationships. It's also good to see young actors successfully creating this play, an odd combination of real drama and farce, in which only two roles - Alexander's young second wife, Helena (Gina Guirguis), and his daughter by his first wife, Sonia (Daisy Cohen) - are in their age range. The others, in their 40s, 60s and 80s, are not only much older but variously see themselves as too old to have reason to go on living, or playing on their age to demand 'respect' (which means power), or wise enough to have accepted their age without undue complaint.
Glenn Brown is especially effective as Ivan Voynitsky, Sonia's Uncle Vanya, fatally attracted to Helena and almost fatal to her retired professor husband, Alexander (Timothy Sekuless), who by his first marriage to Vanya's sister gained control of the estate which he now proposes to sell in a highly dramatic emotionally explosive scene. Moonlight's actors, coming as they do from ANU's Theatre Studies course, are not expected to have professional training, and often missed the subtleties of light and shade needed, especially in voice levels. But they had good direction as a team, with timing which drew laughs, surprise, shock and sadness at all the right points on opening night. Uncle Vanya's great original director Stanislavski might have needed to teach them more technique, but he wouldn't have been disappointed with this production's final scene which drew genuine, respectful applause.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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