The show is performed upstairs at the Russian Samovar restaurant in “Tolstoy’s Lounge.” This 19th century Russian looking room is decorated with plush vintage chairs, small marble tables, and shelves with weathered books and that are crammed with period knick-knacks. The walls are hung with framed etchings and engravings. There’s also a bar.
Audience members buy ticket packages that include varying combinations of food and drinks. There’s “Imperial Family,” “Aristocracy,” “Bourgeoisie” and “Proletariat.” That comes only with a vodka shot. Drinks and food are served throughout. The lighting remains unchanged during the production, magnifying the sense of interactive reality between the audience and the performers.
As the audience settles in while wearing comical nametags that have been given out on their arrival, cast members engage them in conversation as their characters. A young woman asks questions carrying a magic 8 Ball. Later on in the show characters play Twister.
Lori Wolter Hudson’s streamlined adaptation is faithful in tone and spirit to Anton Chekhov’s classic play, Uncle Vanya, but is peppered with contemporary cultural references. Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and Dr. Phil are among the topicalities mentioned.
Periodically the cast calls for a “Family Meeting.” The theme from Jeopardy is played on a kazoo and three audience members are picked to come up. The one who is wearing the funniest nametag that relates to dialogue from the play is the winner, receiving a free vodka shot. Drinking games also take place. All of these festive tangents never sidetrack the plot of the play.
Ms. Hudson is also the director, and her giddy, all-over-the-place staging in this large living room, enhances the exuberance of the piece. Improbably and cleverly, Chekhov’s tone and intentions survive the mayhem.
This is chiefly due to the superb work of the ensemble who rapidly shift back and forth from their intense characterizations to the collaborative silliness with the audience.
Joel Rainwater as Vanya, Amanda Sykes as Yelena, Christopher Tocco as Astrov, Leah Walsh as Sonya, Sean Tarrant as The Professor, and Josh Sauerman as Waffles all exhibit great emotional depth and range. With their extensive classical theater credits, they have the experience to perfectly achieve Chekhov’s renowned style of intertwining tragedy and comedy.
Caitlin Cisek’s terrific costume design adds considerably to the cast’s and the show’s success. The look of the 19th century is vibrantly obtained with peasant outfits, fur hats and long coats. That’s all contemporarily tweaked with jeans, flannel shirts and the presence of smart phones.
Published in 1897, and first performed in Moscow in 1899, Uncle Vanya is filled with family drama and resentments. There’s a famous gunshot sequence that here is replicated humorously.
Vanya is the morose, middle-aged manager of the country estate belonging to his brother-in-law. He is Serebryakov, a retired professor who inherited the estate from his late wife, Vanya’s sister. Yelena is The Professor’s much younger and beautiful second wife. Sonya is The Professor’s spinster daughter from his marriage, who helps Vanya in running the estate. Waffles is a bankrupt former landowner now living on the estate. Astrov is the sardonic country doctor who frequently visits and becomes smitten with Yelena, while Sonya secretly pines for him. The play, and Drunkle Vanya chart these emotional entanglements and upheavals.
This show is a presentation of the New York City theater company Three Day Hangover. They produce adaptations of classic plays in bars. With Drunkle Vanya, they have crafted an exhilarating yet thoughtful event.
Drunkle Vanya (through March 4, 2017)
Three Day Hangover
Tolstoy’s Lounge at Russian Samovar (restaurant)
256 West 52ndStreet, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.drunklevanya.com
Running time: two hours with one intermission