Goodman Gives Modern Take On Century-Old Play

Tim Hopper (Vanya) in the Chicago premiere of Annie Baker’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, directed by Robert Falls.

Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” is a realistic play that presents an ironic tale of a family living in the Russian countryside.

The play opens on a scene with the handsome local doctor Astrov (Marton Csokas), the daughter’s hilarious old nurse Marina (Mary Ann Thebus) and Uncle Vanya (Tim Hopper).

They discuss the changes in their household since the return of the retired professor Serebriakov, played by David Darlow. The play hits its overly dramatic climax when the changes that Serebriakov is making are finally too much for the dissatisfied Uncle Vanya.

The Goodman Theatre’s production of “Uncle Vanya” proved to be accessible, thought-provoking and chock-full of impressive characterization. Showing at the Goodman’s smaller Owen Theatre, the classic play came together in a new light. Annie Baker’s translation and adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” is noticeably modern to those who have studied older translations of Chekov, but more understandable and relatable to younger, unassuming theatre goers.

David Darlow (Serbryakov), Kristen Bush (Yelena), Tim Hopper (Vanya), Marilyn Dodds Frank (Maria), Larry Neumann Jr. (Telegin), Caroline Neff (Sonya) and Mary Ann Thebus (Marina) in the Chicago premiere of Annie Baker’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, directed by Robert Falls.

The Goodman’s adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” was appropriate for the large student audience during the Goodman’s College Night. Students brought $10 and their student ID down to the iconic Goodman Theatre to see the play, chow down on a pizza dinner and meet cast members.

Before the performance of “Uncle Vanya”, Caroline Neff and Alžan Pelesìć gave students great advice for starting a career in theatre. College Night is only held once during each show’s run, but the student promotion “10Tix,” where students can get tickets for $10, is always available.

The production also embraced new elements of naturalism along with the classical realism exhibited in the original play. A naturalist play usually depicts a detailed representation of the nitty-gritty aspects of life. The dirty windows, dingy walls and mismatched furniture found in Todd Rosenthal’s set design added understanding and meaning to the themes of decay and dissatisfaction in the adapted story.

Caroline Neff (Sonya) and Tim Hopper (Vanya) in the Chicago premiere of Annie Baker’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, directed by Robert Falls.

Although equipped with a more modern script, director Robert Falls took a classical approach to the acting and rehearsal process. It seemed fitting that Falls used the systematic approach of training his actors that the Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski developed.

Using the Stanislavski method, the cast conveyed realistic characterization to the audience. Fall’s attention to character development and story detail didn’t go unnoticed. It heightened the overall performance and helped the audience further understand the complicated characters, story and humor. Even the minor character of “Waffles,” played by Larry Neumann, Jr., was captivating in his run-down portrayal of an impoverished landowner.

The production is an effective modern take on the century-old production, and the entire cast does well in presenting each character’s persona dynamically. I would recommend the Goodman’s adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” to theatre enthusiasts and entertainment seekers alike.

“Uncle Vanya” runs until March 12 in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre. “10Tix” can be purchased online at with the promotional code: COLLEGE.

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