amBroadway: Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ staged in midtown loft

UNCLE_VANYA_01(c)Emilio Madrid
‘Uncle Vanya’ is being presented at a private loft in the Flatiron District.
Photo by Emilio Madrid

Welcome back, Uncle Vanya. Still feeling gloomy?

Back in the summer of 2012, two starry productions of Chekhov’s classic 19th century tragicomedy “Uncle Vanya” were presented in New York, including an intimate Off-Broadway production by Soho Rep (with Reeve Birney, Michael Shannon, Georgia Engel, and Maria Dizzia) and the Sydney Theatre Company’s touring production led by Cate Blanchett.

In an unusual and intriguing addition to the characteristically bare summertime Off-Broadway season, a “hyper-intimate” production of “Uncle Vanya” is being presented at a private loft in the Flatiron District, with seating available for only 40 audience members at each of only 16 performances.

Directed by the little-known Jack Serio (“This Beautiful Future”) and using a well-known translation by Paul Schmidt, the cast includes David Cromer (who is best known as a high-profile director), Bill Irwin (who just appeared in Beckett’s “Endgame” at the Irish Rep), Marin Ireland (numerous Off-Broadway credits), and Will Brill (who played Ali Hakim in the Broadway “Oklahoma!” revival/deconstruction).

“Uncle Vanya” observes the trials and tribulations of a mostly miserable household, including the middle-aged Vanya (Cromer), who has come to the realization that he has wasted his life in the service of an absent-minded professor (Irwin); Yelena (Julia Chan), the professor’s younger and unhappy wife; Sonya (Ireland), the professor’s sweet and supposedly less-than-beautiful daughter; and Astrov (Brill), an inebriated country doctor whose real passion lies in forestry.

The staging is similar in concept and tone to the 2012 Soho Rep production, which transformed the theater into a small living room in which the audience surrounded the cast and sat on carpeted benches. Here, the audience members sit on chairs around a long table and kitchen area.

This really is the ideal way to experience Chekhov, who was interested in one-on-one, quiet human interaction. However, there does appear to be a disconnect among the cast, with Cromer and Chan giving casual, tone-down performances while Irwin, Brill, and Ireland are far more expressive and finely-detailed.

Here’s hoping “Uncle Vanya” is followed by loft productions of Chekhov’s three other classic dramas, including “The Seagull,” “Three Sisters,” and “The Cherry Orchard.”

Through July 16. vanyanyc.com.

Edelman brings his comic monologue to Broadway

Last year, Alex Edelman, a 34-year-old stand-up comic, opened Off-Broadway in “Just for Us,” a one-man show that explored how curiosity led him to attend a secret meeting of White Nationalists in Queens – in spite of the fact that he is Jewish and even grew up in a Modern Orthodox household. It has now transferred to Broadway’s Hudson Theatre for a short summertime run.

Edelman is very much a comic in the style of Mike Birbiglia, who produced the show’s original Off-Broadway run. Like Birbiglia, Edelman presents himself as casual, well-meaning, full of energy, and clueless.

While the show does not directly analyze the disconcerting rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric, the bizarre incident that Edelman conjures points out the difficult question of whether it is best to ignore, confront, or try to understand those with disturbing and dangerous viewpoints.

Through Aug. 19 at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St,. justforusshow.com.