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New Whine in Old Battles

Uncle Vanya at the Boston Repertory Theater Thursdays & Fridays

By Seth M. Kupferberg

IT'S ALMOST WORTH sitting through the Boston Repertory Theater's production of Uncle Vanya to hear Martha Burtt recite the play's final, beautiful, sorrowful prayer:

When our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and

there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suf

fered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will

have pity on us. and to hear above the sobbing of Telegin's guitar the twice-repeated "We shall rest" that ends the play.

But not quite. Director Bart McCarthy's characters have little charm, their lines have little music, and their interaction has no comic side. Maybe I exaggerate. Chekov will survive quite a bit, possibly including this production.

The lack of comedy hurts most. Chekov's plays burst with heartbreaking comedy, the comedy of a dying class whose suffering and humanity are not less because it deserves to die. Even the stage directions are comic. "There is also a map of Africa on the wall, obviously of no use to anybody." That map should fairly exude incongruity, and when Dr. Astrov, searching desperately for something to say, observes that it's probably roasting in Africa right now, we ought to laugh at the statement's inappropriateness at the same time that we recognize his desperation. In the Boston Rep's production the map is too tiny to notice and Astrov's remark is hardly more inappropriate than everything else.

Burtt shows great feeling for Chekov's word-music, though her other great speech, the one about how forests make people kind and gentle, is hard to understand. Joseph Wilkins as Vanya and Virginia Feingold as Helena whine too much; but David Zucker as Astrov and Esquire Jauchem as the Professor ("something between a well-preserved biscuit and an educated fish," Vanya calls him) aren't bad.

There was a perfect production of The Cherry Orchard in New York earlier this year, with a black cast headed by James Earl Jones and Earle Hyman. By comparison, this production naturally seems even paler than it would alone.

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