Hurricane Irene doesn’t deter audience from ‘Uncle Vanya’ at Kennedy Center

August 28, 2011

On Saturday night, theatergoers were escorted from their cars to the Kennedy Center under the umbrella of Michael Amerson, a doorman whose high spirits seemed impervious to the weather.

“I love this,” he said as the rain started to pick up.

The final performance of “Uncle Vanya,” the Sydney Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed production of Chekhov’s grim classic, took place at 7:30. Though the threat of Hurricane Irene loomed all day, the performance went on as scheduled before some very damp patrons, some from far away.

Inside, the Grand Foyer slowly filled with patrons in various degrees of dishevelment. “I came all the way from Newport, Rhode Island,” said Mary Jo Dieckhaus. “I’m drenched, but I don’t care.”

Joseph Claro, Leah Schmidt and Justin Ormand woke up at 4:30 Saturday morning in Jersey City to be on the road by 5, before the storm was scheduled to hit. They’d spent the past week debating whether to come, but by the time Claro and Ormand arrived at Schmidt’s house on Friday night, the answer was clear.

The trip was months in the making. “I heard this was coming from Australia,” Claro said. “We’d seen Cate [Blanchett] in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ in New York. And as soon as I heard this was coming to D.C., I bought a membership package just so I could see this show.”

Although Claro called the Kennedy Center “about a dozen times” on Saturday to make sure the show wasn’t canceled, and Schmidt’s parents had called her “trying to convince me not to go out in this weather — they don’t understand,” the three had no regrets.

“When I saw [Blanchett] in ‘Streetcar,’ she was two hours late because her car broke down,” Claro said. “It was this huge storm. Now, I’ll go through the storm to see her.

“And seeing this company that only comes to the States once a year . . .” Claro’s voice trailed off. He held out his hands, as if to say, “What choice did we have?”

Why march headfirst into a hurricane? The reason seems a relic of an earlier era: When you can DVR everything you can’t catch on television, YouTube every gaffe you missed the first time around and see any movie you want any time you want, it’s easy to forget that there are some things you can see only once, in real time, in real life.

And Saturday night was the last chance to see this cast perform this play. Period.

“Everyone said I was crazy, ‘Don’t go!’ ” said Lori Schneider, who came from Upstate New York. “I’m a theater person, and I adore Cate Blanchett. As it is, I’m disappointed because I can’t stand outside the stage door to try to meet her.”

If the theatergoers were stubborn in the face of onrushing nature, perhaps the Kennedy Center was, too. After all, Arena Stage opted to cancel its 8 p.m. performance of “Oklahoma!” — though perhaps it would have been too much to sing “Oh, what a beautiful morning” as Hurricane Irene flew by outside.

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