Uncle Vanya

Fall, 2013
Written By: Anton Chekhov
Directed By: Jeff Storer

Uncle Vanya is story of characters caught between tradition and transformation, between personal isolation and communal action, between the lure of love and the security of duty. Written by Anton Chekhov, this script was adapted by Annie Baker (b. 1981), a New York Drama Critics Circle Award-winning American playwright. Her new version of Uncle Vanya (based on a literal translation by Margarita Shalina) premiered at New York City’s Soho Repertory Theatre in June of 2012 to rave reviews and audience demand that twice extended its run.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Baker would translate a canonical text of her favorite playwright given that she shares so many dramaturgical sensibilities with Chekhov, who is credited with fomenting narrative and performance techniques that became the foundation for mid-twentieth century theatrical realism. In a 2013 New Yorker Magazine profile, critic Nathan Heller describes Baker’s approach to writing: Her goal is to explore what’s left unsaid along the edges of conversation: it’s the principle of looking at familiar stars so that the galaxies that can’t be seen head on appear out of the corner of your eye. The work requires tight coordination –not just of scripted words and silences but of movements, gestures, costumes, music, and the whole immersive apparatus of the modern stage.

To help the cast with those movements and gestures and also with the humor in the play, Director Jeff Storer brought in Providence, RI-based movement and clown technique consultant and physical theater performer Kali Quinn. "I was looking for somebody who would not only help actors develop character through movement but also push them to understand humor through movement," Storer said. “Because this production is not set in a particular period and the students won’t be using wigs and makeup, their characters will need to be expressed through their movement."

Storer was also insistent that his cast should reflect the student body at Duke, so the play has a diverse group of actors.  The timelessness of a Chekhov play makes it unnecessary to faithfully reflect 19th century Russia, he says.

“There are specific historical and cultural contexts that are absolutely relevant to Chekhov’s playwriting and the traditions of realistic performance that govern the way his work is often performed,” says Jules Odendahl-James, the production dramaturg. “However, Chekhov broke a lot of rules in his time. He transformed what audiences thought should be depicted on stage. His collaboration with director/actor Constantin Stanislavski also transformed the way plays were staged. Our production aims for a similar kind of transformation. To invite audiences who never heard of Chekhov to give his work a try and for those who have seen a lot of Chekhov, to see his work in a new way, a new light.”

Local musician and composer Bart Matthews wrote the score for the play, and he and students in the cast played trumpets, piano, guitar, violin and ukuleles to provide the soundscape for Uncle Vanya. Set design was by Raleigh artist Sonya Drum, and costume design was by Chatham County artist Derrick Ivey. Chuck Catotti from Duke University provided lighting design.

Uncle Vanya
by Anton Chekhov
a new adaptation by Annie Baker
Director Jeff Storer

Set Designer
Sonya Drum
Stage Manager
Hillary Spiritos
Costume Designer
Derrick Ivey
Movement Designer
Kali Quinn
Lighting Designer
Chuck Catotti
Original Music
Bart Matthews
Dramaturgy
Jules Odendahl-James
Literal Translation
Margarita Shalina

The Company of Actors

Jamie Bell Yelena
Rory Eggleston Waffles, violin
Aurelia Fava Maman
Faye Goodwin Sonya, ukelele
Thomas Kavanagh Vanya
Sam Kebede Vanya
Ashley Diane Long Yelena
Bart Matthews Yefim, Hired Man, piano, guitar, ukelele
Mike Myers Astrov
Jaya Powell The Company Manager, singer
Nick Prey Astrov, trumpet
Madeleine Pron Nanny
Cynthia Wang Sonya
Phil Watson The Professor, trumpet