If you are familiar with American, French, British theater, and are not familiar with the man who hacked theater for the 20th century and beyond, then something is missing in your life. You need to meet Anton Chekhov. A production created by New Salon last summer, inspired by Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, has its third (after The Public Theater in January), and likely more perfect incarnation at Sharon Playhouse under the impeccable direction of Morgan Green. Writers Milo Cramer, Madeline Wise, and Morgan Green worked with dramaturgist Eliot B. Quick. With the assistance of music director Robert Frost and composer Deepali Gupta, something unusual in the history of theater has occurred. And now it’s here in Sharon’s Bok Gallery—worth a long drive from wherever to see this extraordinary marvel.
Minor Character: Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the same time might be at first somewhat confusing. When I walked into the theater and saw a bourbon bottle on the dining table of a fictive Russian dacha, I knew something was wrong—either the director did not know what he was doing, or something strange was about to happen. Thankfully, it was the latter. Mash-up scraps of six translations of Uncle Vanya are employed in this quilted script. One of the translators is a wild card, Google Translate; another is the actor Milo Cramer. This marvelous production presents ensemble acting at its best.
Sorry, for being so explanatory, banal, and blandly descriptive. There is despair here. There is vodka. But there is laughter like a roller coaster. You need to coast, let juxtapositions float. People don’t know who they are. I mean I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I am and I often lie about that. At times there is song. Happy song. Sad song. This is not a musical, but the voices are excellent and well-blended. The characters can’t stand each other. They love each other—or try to. They are polite. They argue. Everybody is a different character at times: different versions of the same people by different actors. Sounds a bit crazy. It is. It is hilarious. It is a new theatrical process at work. You’ve never witnessed anything like it before.
In this production the women have stronger roles—very Chekhovian. Caitlin Morris, Anne Troup, and Madeline Wise present astonishing performances. Milo Cramer is also exceptionally good. The plot presents snippet riffs of Chekhov’s great play set in the Russian hinterland that somehow becomes through implication and some props a dysfunctional American suburban home structured as half nursing home, half lunatic asylum. David Greenspan, as a retired, ill professor, delivers a masterful Trumpian monolog toward the end of the play.
Chekhov was the first playwright to work environmentalism into theater. That, too, is emphatically, yet indirectly here. In many ways all of 20th century theater is a version of Chekhov’s plays. And now I can report that Morgan Green and company have hacked Chekhov. Americans are now appropriating Chekhov. We are going to steal his corpse from Russia, re-animate it, and put sanctions on Russia for allowing Chekhov to die.
Don’t let indecision about being exposed to a new form of theater hold you back. Drive to Sharon Playhouse and discover life on the stage. You will be thankful for the laughter. It is likely you may want to see this production more than once and bring someone who has not seen it.
Minor Character runs Thursday through Sunday until June 25. For more info see: https://www.sharonplayhouse.org