Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Chekov Served Up with Vigor and Humor in Intiman's Uncle Vanya

Samantha Mathis as Elena and Mark Nelson
In my college days, I took in a ponderously sincere and deathly slow-moving production of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya which defeated even the likes of Sam Waterston, Linda Lavin and Jobeth Williams. It was the one time I had seen an adaptation of this particular play, and the production was so relentlessly mediocre that I had convinced myself, until recently, that I had never seen the play at all. Therefore it is happy news indeed that leads me to unequivocally recommend playwright Craig Lucas' wry and spry adaptation of Uncle Vanya currently on display at Intiman Theatre.

Under the redoubtably sure hand of director Bartlett Sher, Chekov's tale of a Russian family that is basically rendered inert during the extended stay of a pompous leach of a relative and his luminously lovely but bored beyond belief younger wife, takes flight and flies high for just two hours plus intermission.

Much of the cast is new to Seattle, and quite likely the freshness in their personas and playing styles lends itself to the overall buoyancy of the production. Mark Nelson 's Uncle Vanya, perhaps Lucas' best tailored character in the adaptation, is achingly funny at times and earnestly pitiable at other moments, such as those in which his clear but unreciprocated designs on Elena (the radiant Samantha Mathis) come to naught. Ms. Mathis, familiar from numerous high-profile film roles, makes herself quite at home on the stage as the frustrated trophy wife and hits a high in her big scene opposite frequent Intiman leading lady Kristin Flanders as Serebriakov's lovelorn daughter (and Elena's stepdaughter) Sonya, as the pair decide to be friends. Then there is the earnest Dr. Astrov, played with sincerity and world weary malaise by Tim Hopper, who doesn't notice Sonya's infatuation with him, being so caught up in Elena's outward allure. The almost unrecognizable Allen Fitzpatrick makes the catered to, self-absorbed Serebriakov a deliciously contemptible creature. In the smaller supporting roles, there are solid contributions by Paula Nelson as the wise if diminishing Nanny, Todd Jefferson Moore's oafish, eager to please Telegin, and Lori Larsen's deluded Maria.

Sher uses the various scene changes and lighting changes that take place within the estate to dramatic advantage, offering character development the opportunity to occur even during these moments, versus the usual stage wait for such things to occur. Never has the Intiman stage seemed so voluminous, thanks to the sleek, picture framing approach to the scenic design, expertly executed by John McDermott and set off to marvelously dreamy effect by Brian McDevitt's lighting design. Deb Trout's costume design for the show is especially notable in the way she dresses the two leading ladies, heightening Mathis' loveliness, and downplaying the radiant in her own right Flanders to help her convincingly play a plain woman. The production benefits from a haunting and appropriately unnerving background musical score by Tony winning composer Adam Guettel.

Uncle Vanya runs through July 18 at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St., in Seattle Center. For more information visit their website at

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes

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