Do you like your Chekhov straight up, with a twist or super drunk? This month, you can choose. The theater stars have aligned to bring you three interpretations of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”: one new translation, one full of wacky characters and ONE DRINKING GAME. Before you say uncle, here’s a guide to help you pick the show that’s right for you.
Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda; Wed.-May 3, $30-$55.
Melancholy meter: 10 troubled tears
“Uncle Vanya” made a splash in Moscow in 1899 for its nuanced portrayal of Russian provincial life. Think samovars, family strife and a whole lotta ennui. Older translations use the clunky King’s English, but playwright Annie Baker spiked the classic story with dialogue that’s everyday American English. So, a line like “And then, existence is tedious, anyway; it is a senseless, dirty business, this life, and goes heavily,” got simplified to “Yeah, and for what it is, life is pretty boring and stupid.” While it certainly sounds contemporary, the play’s emotionally charged subtext, lamenting for lost time, and the samovars all remain.
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW; Fri.-May 3, $40-$90.
Melancholy meter: 2 bittersweet tears
This satire collects characters from Chekhov plays to create a madcap “Uncle Vanya”-“Seagull”-“Cherry Orchard” mashup. The story (about three siblings, a boy toy and the threat of losing the family home) is the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” of Chekhov, and yet it somehow comes off as life-affirming. The show is playing at more regional theaters than any other show in America, according to director Aaron Posner, who credits the humor for its popularity. “If you have zero knowledge of Chekhov, you have total access to the play,” Posner says. “If you know a little bit about it, if you know the Wikipedia page of Chekhov, you will get x number more jokes. But you don’t need to reread your Chekhov to get this play and to laugh.”
‘Drunkle Vanya: A Drinking Play for Horrible People’
The Pinch, 3548 14th St. NW; April 10-25, $15-$20.
Melancholy meter: 1 big bead of vodka-infused sweat
LiveArtDC’s presentation is half play, half group Cards Against Humanity with vodka shots. “It’s in-your-face and almost completely interactive,” director Lee Liebeskind says. The actors encourage the audience to play games and take shots with them throughout the show. The script follows the general story of Uncle Vanya (here played by a woman) but is “way more rock ’n’ roll and half-baked,” Liebeskind says. Vanya’s opening line says it all: “You remember that one night your nearest and dearest sat down for a quiet game of Monopoly and your grandma got drunk and revealed that you were adopted? … Well, tonight should be something like that — except with a LOT more vodka.”
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