THE STAGE “Uncle Vanya” – By Charles Collins (Chicago Tribune – 1930)

Chicago Tribune – Tuesday October 20, 1930 Page 29

THE STAGE

“Uncle Vanya”

A play by Anton Chekhoff, translated by Rose Caylor; given at the Harris theater Oct. 20, 1930, under the management of Gilbert Miller. Production by Jed Harris.

Lillian Gish - Uncle Vanya (Harris)
Lillian Gish – Uncle Vanya (Harris)

The Cast:

  • Marina ……………………………….. Kate Mayhew
  • Michael Astroff …….……..…… Osgood Perkins
  • Uncle Vanya ……………….…… Walter Connolly
  • Alexander Serebrakoff ……… Eugene Powers
  • Ilya Telegin …………….…….. Eduardo Ciannelli
  • Helena …………………..………………. Lillian Gish
  • Mme. Voinitskaya …….…………… Isabel Irving
  • A Servant ………………….……. Harold Johnsrud

By Charles Collins

We have watched the visiting Russians of the Moscow Art theater dream wistfully through the gentle, lyric melancholy of Chekhoff’s plays without understanding a word of them, and have applauded prodigiously. Now we have an opportunity to get the full flavor of this famous Slav in sympathetic translation and in acting that is mellow with his racial characteristics. “Uncle Vanya,” new at the Harris theater, supplies it, and if we who were charmed by the company from Moscow do not react to it with enthusiasm we are merely cultural frauds. For this “Uncle Vanya” is better Chekhoff for us than that of the admirable Moscovians – because it is clear, intelligible play-going, freed from the fog of uncomprehended words.

This translation, adepts in Russian literature assert, catches the fluid prose-poetry of Chekhoff style and is close to the gray, pensive spirit of the original dialogue. But even without the value of being understandable by American audiences, this staging of “Uncle Vanya” would still be excellent Chekhoff. I can imagine Stanislavsky of Moscow praising it as worthy of his Seagull theater, where Chekhoff was held as a patron saint until the soviet government banned his works as too pleasantly reminiscent of the czarist regime. Here you have an ideal cast and an admirable interpretation; true “art theater” stuff.

Jed Harris
Jed Harris (The Curse of Genius – Cover)

Jed Harris, who staged this production, is the same young Mr. Harris who clicked of such successes as “Broadway,” “The Royal Family,” and “The Front Page.” His touch as a director jas been marked by speed and wire edged nervous energy. But when he went Russian, Mr. Harris seemed to say to himself, “Now I will show them what I can do with the soft pedal.” His “Uncle Vanya” is as quiet and moody and entranced as anything that ever came out from Russia. Perhaps the only criticism that Stanislavsky would make of it is: “This is a little too Russian, for beneath his melancholy, Chekhoff has a sense of ironical humor.”

Uncle Vanya
Uncle Vanya

This story of boredom and frustration and minor heartaches in a Russian provincial home comes across the footlights with persuasive human values. It charms like a dark opal; it fascinates the attention as it gropes through its dim lights and its petty incidents. This is Chekhoff in his true stageworthy quality; and it explains, better than any poring over the entire body of his work in translation, why he is rated as one of the major Russian dramatists. This performance also, is what American art theaters have been striving for and almost always missing.

Lillian Gish - Uncle Vanya
Lillian Gish – Uncle Vanya

Lillian Gish floats through the picture like a symbol of fugitive romance, escaping the clutching hands of men hungry for an ideal love. Osgood Perkins is the disillusioned country doctor, somewhat Byronical in his pose – a crisp, complete characterization. The petulant and dejected Vanya is effectively treated as an amiable frustrate [who puts a bit of melodrama into the play with some wild revolver shooting] by Walter Connolly. The professor, an intellectual fake and browbeating stuffed shirt who is the family incubus, is strikingly represented by Eugene Powers. Sad, sincere little Sonia, whose heart is so hopelessly broken, is played with winsome truth by Zita Johann.

If you want Chekhoff, here it is. And if you know an “art theater” when you see one, for the next two weeks you must consider the Harris in that category.

Lillian Gish - Uncle Vanya
Osgood Perkins and Lillian Gish – Uncle Vanya
Lillian Gish - Uncle Vanya
Lillian Gish – Uncle Vanya

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