Apple Tree Theatre’s current, moving revival of Chekhov’s classic dramatization of hilarious and heartbreaking “scenes from country life” works largely in part due to a fluid and modern-sounding interpretation/translation by playwright Brian Friel, dubbed by some critics as the “Irish Chekhov” given the penchant of his own plays—“Dancing at Lughnasa,” for example—to poeticize the everyday ennui of unfulfilled lives in the provinces. In this “Vanya,” a richness of subtext and subtlety abounds alongside flights of fervid fancy, most notably those of Ross Lehman as the eponymous antihero. And though it is unfair to single out any one member of the strong ensemble, it is Lehman who more than any other actor effortlessly achieves—through vocal inflections and simple gesticulations—the most cogent exploration of his character’s many psychological layers. The play is clearly set in the Russia of yesterday but director Mark Lococo and his team of designers have eschewed any easy period associations to keep the spirit and feel—like Friel’s language—current. Whether adorning a period-like costume with a contemporary touch (a denim skirt for the otherwise demure Sonya; a polo for the handsome Astrov) or giving the actors a playing area (a studio-like, in-the-round platform with minimal props) versus a naturalistic setting, the design choices clearly help this “Vanya” straddle the past and the present, allowing for a group of nineteenth-century-inspired languid Russian landowners to teach twenty-first-century audiences a thing or two about the human condition. (F.O. Almeida)
Apple Tree Theatre, 595 Elm Place, Highland Park, (847)432-4335. Wed 7:30pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 5pm & 8:30pm/Sun 3pm & 7pm. $33-$38. Through July 17.