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Sometimes you have to dig to find the best theatrical webcasts, while others are hiding in plain sight. Before the pandemic, WNET, New York’s PBS affiliate, used to telecast plays from Manhattan at irregular intervals. And some of its strongest offerings are still online for free on-demand viewing—if you know where to look.
One place, tucked deep within the thirteen.org website, is a page devoted to Channel 13’s “Theater Close-Up” series of off-Broadway productions. The most recent episode, one of the greatest Chekhov productions I’ve ever had the privilege to review, is the 2018 New York premiere of Richard Nelson’s adaptation of “Uncle Vanya,”the auspicious inaugural production of Hunter College’s Hunter Theater Project, in which professional stagings are mounted under the aegis of the Upper East Side school’s drama department. This concise “Vanya,” which was taped in front of a live and responsive audience, was performed in casual street clothes and modern English (Mr. Nelson, who was also the director, translated Chekhov’s play in collaboration with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). The goal in the theater was to make everything more intimate, with 12 area mikes used to boost the volume just enough so that the actors could throw away their lines and still be heard in every corner of the small black-box house.
Not only did it work there, but viewing it on a laptop with earphones proves to be just as successful, so much so that I can enthusiastically recommend this “Vanya” to Chekhov novices and connoisseurs alike….
Another noteworthy show that I recently ran across, available on WNET’s “All Arts” streaming platform, is an extreme rarity, a telecast of the 1973 Shakespeare in the Park outdoor production of “King Lear” directed by Edwin Sherin and starring James Earl Jones, Paul Sorvino and Raúl Juliá. Mr. Jones was not yet known as the resplendent bass voice of Darth Vader in 1973. Back then he was a distinguished stage actor who made occasional screen appearances (he had a small part in “Dr. Strangelove” and got a best-actor Oscar nomination for ‘The Great White Hope,” in which he had previously appeared on Broadway)….
* * *Read the whole thing here.