Uncle Vanya

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SAY UNCLE O’Hare pressures Gyllenhaal for some affection.

SAY UNCLE O’Hare pressures Gyllenhaal for some affection.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Denis O’Hare owns a damn fine bag of acting tricks. If you’ve seen this seriocomic trouper even once (in shows such as Take Me Out and Assassins), you will anticipate and savor his manic intensity, his thinking-so-fast-I-trip-over-my-tongue patter, his semispastic physical gags and his rueful, blissed-out smile, as if he feels both the joy and terror of life rushing under his skin. O’Hare gets to use every tool in his kit—some several times—in the embittered title role of Uncle Vanya, which has been staged with bipolar intensity by Austin Pendleton, and which includes compelling turns by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard.

Those last two names might be driving CSC’s box office, but this is happily not a case of celebrity ego and middling ability. Pendleton gets his whole cast on the same page; their approach to Chekhov seems to be to squeeze the text (Carol Rocamora’s half-fluid, half-clunky translation) for every last drop of sweat, spit and tears. Mood swings abound and even though the characters embrace, kiss and dreamily paw one another, they are wracked by the frustration of nonconsummation. In the first five minutes, Dr. Astrov (Sarsgaard) weeps openly, remembering a lost patient. Later, when he shows up drunk, he’s stinking and roaring. Gyllenhaal, soign and listing against furniture in an orgasmic half swoon, teases Vanya shamelessly, but she’s ultimately as miserable as the rest. Pendleton doesn’t let anyone go halfway, and the result is wondrously rich and textured, some of the best American Chekhov in years.

There are no walls in Santo Loquasto’s post-and-beam bi-level set, so everyone essentially occupies the same room, and this leads Pendleton to intriguing blocking decisions, such as having other characters remain in a scene written as a soliloquy. No one is alone in this big, lonely house, yet they remain painfully isolated.—David Cote

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Classic Stage Company. By Anton Chekhov. Dir. Austin Pendleton. With Denis O’Hare, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal. 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.

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