PAWTUCKET — Curt Columbus believes there is a mind-set he calls the “Chekhov Industrial Complex,” which he avoids when translating the great writer’s pieces from Russian to English. When directing his works, he actually pushes quite far in the other direction.
The latter dramatic shift can be seen on stage at the Gamm Theatre where Columbus’s translation of “Uncle Vanya” is now playing. As translator and director of the production, Columbus defies the “Complex” by creating an almost lighthearted approach to the sad tale. Instead of drab and depressing scenes and woe-is-me characters, he has worked with the Gamm company, led by Artistic Director Tony Estrella in the lead role, to create moments of laughter and music, light and even joy.
Vanya finds his world turned upside down when his late sister’s husband, a college professor, shows up on the country estate Vanya has worked his entire life with his new, much younger wife and a host of unreasonable demands. The professor’s announcement that he plans to sell the estate given to him by Vanya’s father as his sister’s dowry leaves Vanya and the others living on the estate shocked.
There are fights and weapons are drawn, there are tears and emotional breakdowns. Chekhov is notoriously long-winded and the conversations and dialogues in “Uncle Vanya” are no exception. But the set, sprawled over three levels on towering scaffolding, and the staging of the scenes are so cleverly executed that the pace of the two-hour show is manageable.
Columbus’ interpretation of the story detours around much of the drudgery. It is still there — Vanya, his niece and the professor’s daughter Sonya, Waffles and Marina work hard and rest little, their hard work funding the professor’s urban lifestyle. The professor is cantankerous and egotistical, leaving his young wife Yelena miserable much of the time. And, Sonya finds herself pining for the local doctor who barely notices her and drowns his own sorrows in copious amounts of vodka.
No, it is not a happy story line, but Columbus infuses lightness, often at unusual moments and, more than once, teetering very close to the edge of meaningfulness. The show, for example, opens with music and simple numbers played on accordions, guitars and xylophones throughout. Perhaps the acoustic version of Soft Cell’s 1980s song “Tainted Love” is a bit much, but the inclusion of music is a nice diversion and transitional tool…
Read the full article by Susan McDonald for the Sun Chronicle here.