I’ll be in and out of New York for much of the summer, and today’s Wall Street Journal drama column reflects my peregrinations. I went to New Haven to review Long Wharf Theatre’s Uncle Vanya after having seen the Irish Repertory Theatre revival of Gaslight in New York. I also paid my first visit to the Olney Theatre Center, a Maryland company that’s currently performing Georges Feydeau’s 13 Rue de l’Amour:
At the moment, the least frequently revived of Anton Chekhov’s four major plays seems to be “Uncle Vanya.” Long Wharf Theatre’s new version is the first important American production to have come to my attention since I started writing this column four years ago. Fortunately, it was worth the wait: Gordon Edelstein, the company’s artistic director, has given “Uncle Vanya” an exceptionally fine staging. Well cast, well designed, well lit and well translated, this lovely production conveys Chekhov’s special flavor with unostentatious grace….
“Uncle Vanya” has been translated and adapted many times, most recently by Brian Friel and David Mamet. Unfazed by precedent, Mr. Edelstein has done it over again in an attractively casual style that sits well on the tongue. Vanya’s searing last-act confession is a particularly choice example of Mr. Edelstein’s approach: “I dread each day. I want a different life. I want to wake up on a bright and beautiful morning and begin a new life, with my past gone like smoke.” His similarly plain-spoken staging keeps the play’s comic and tragic elements in perfect equipoise. The laughs come right on schedule–but so does the heartbreak….
Patrick Hamilton wrote plays and novels about very creepy people, most of which are better remembered as movies. “Gaslight,” the tale of a thoroughly nasty Victorian husband who tries to drive his terrified wife insane, opened on Broadway in 1941, ran for 1,295 performances and was then sold to Hollywood. Alas, George Cukor’s 1944 film version, which starred Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, was so successful that Hamilton’s original play is now rarely performed save by amateurs and small regional companies. I didn’t see the Pearl Theatre Company’s 1999 Off Broadway revival, so I made a point of catching the Irish Repertory Theatre’s new production, which is, as usual with that superlative troupe, a knockout….
Now that so many affluent city dwellers are decamping for the suburbs and exurbs, who will keep them amused? The Olney Theatre Center, located more or less midway between Baltimore and Washington, is an ancient summer-stock house (it started life in 1938 as a roller rink) that used to be somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Then a suburb grew up around it, and the company retrofitted itself as a sprawlingly attractive three-stage complex that presents an ambitious year-round schedule of straight plays and musicals….
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