Uncle Vanya at Space 55 in Phoenix Full of Memories, Metaphor, Malaise
The setup: Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya takes guts to produce and mad brains and talent to produce tolerably. Don't go to that link and read it; besides its morose nature, it's full of those Russians with multiple nicknames and pretty hard to follow on the page (frustration bonus!).
It's two hours of bitching and moaning from people who are so non-self-actualizing, you just want to slap them. I can't think of a local company any better equipped to meet the challenge than Space 55, so we've gotten lucky, but for only two more nights.
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The execution: So the secret to good Chekhov for Americans is, first of all, using actors to play the characters, so that we can tell them apart. Then it's important to rehearse tirelessly and mindfully, so that conversations that would send the average person screaming into the night become interesting and moving. All those pistons are firing here.
It takes great acting and directing to make this batch of selfish, broken, oblivious people, seemingly trapped together at a stifling country house, into individuals we can feel for. The ensemble stops short of making any personality or issue bigger than it should be; the situation hovers true to life and moves at a realistically (if sometimes infuriatingly) gradual pace.
Adaptor/director Charlie Steak's script is a big help, too. I don't know which translation of the play he used -- or whether he speaks Russian -- but the subtle changes he made to declunkify and smooth out the dialogue, which is very thought-heavy, make a great difference in how easy it is to relate to for both actors and audience, while keeping it in the appropriate timeframe. I was somewhat thrown by a passage near the end about getting one new horseshoe (I think Steak might have understood a reference to a single horse from a team as a reference to one of a single horse's four feet), which sounded particularly off coming from a character who's a farmer and would know better in that particular context, but in general the script is brainy and serves the author well.