Opening this Friday: Dreamwell Theatre brings Anton Chekov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ to the local stage

Dreamwell Theatre presents: Uncle Vanya

Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City — Oct. 17-18, 24-25 ($10-13)

Uncle Vanya
Photo by Gavin Conkling

Arguably the most significant artistic collaboration in the last 200 years of theatre was between Russian writer Anton Chekov and actor/director Konstantin Stanislavski. Beginning with the Moscow Art Theatre’s premiere production of The Seagull in 1898, Stanislavski used Chekov’s character-based dramas to showcase his theories on acting. Instead of using rote gestures and inflections, Stanislavski believed that acting should be based on a psychological process in which the actor considers the character’s objectives and motivations. His theories revolutionized modern theatre and continue to dominate the contemporary theatre world. 

This is an opportunity to see one of Chekov’s influential plays, Uncle Vanya, which is being produced by Dreamwell Theatre using a newer adaptation by David Mamet. In a rural province, a group of people works to keep up an estate owned by hotshot professor Serebryakov. When the professor and his much-younger second wife, Yelena, come to visit, their presence throws the estate into frenzy. Relationships are tested, and the professor announces changes which threaten the livelihoods of the people who work so hard for him.

Mamet’s adaptation cuts out some exposition and changes the translation so that it does not sound stilted to contemporary American ears. Aside from this, Mamet preserves the spirit of the original dialogue that inspired Stanislavski’s acting theories. Chekov emphasized realistic, intimate conversations of the kind where important thoughts and feelings are left unsaid. This, combined with the perpetually relevant theme of dashed hopes, create a picture of wasted lives that remain significant for modern audiences.

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