By Selena Puente
Thanks to an exciting collaboration between the AT&T Performing Arts Center and six local Dallas theaters, the Elevator Project and the Dallas Actor’s Lab will present Annie Baker’s translation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”
The most exciting part of the whole operation is the strong University of Dallas presence. Kyle Lemieux, chair of the UD drama department and founder of the Dallas Actor’s Lab, is working together with UD alum Dylan Key to create a show that will truly make a mark on the Dallas theater scene.
“I looked at at least five other translations, but Annie’s translation is meant to sound familiar – using words like ‘creep,’ and ‘yup,’ with natural pauses like we have in conversations,” Lemieux said. “This new version is wiping the dust off Chekhov. Plays like these tend to calcify, and we need them to come alive. Theater always needs to stay present, and this play is present.”
Lemieux was enthusiastic about his decision to choose Key to direct the show.
“Dylan Key is the most exciting and dynamic young director that I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” Lemieux said. “He allows the actors to really wrestle with the work, and then come to their own solutions very organically. Dylan is an actor-friendly director, he can see through more than the fog of interesting possibilities.”
This play certainly creates the chance for innovation. Lemieux said that while in the 2013 production of “Jailbait,” the stage was set up tennis court-style, in “Vanya,” the pair is trying to make the audience feel the same “claustrophobic intimacy,” as he puts it, that the actors feel.
In order to accomplish this, they plan to set up the room so that the only seating is limited to 14 couches.
“Everyone will be sitting on the same level, four people per couch, so that 48 people surround a rectangular space for the actors,” Lemieux said. This presents quite the challenge to Key, who must direct a show that the audience will experience in great proximity to the action.
The story itself lends well to this closeness. It follows the events that ensue at the country house of Professor Serebryakov, after he has chosen a new young wife, Yelena. All of the characters bicker and the drama of the play ends with the departure of Professor Serebryakov and his wife.
Russian theater is not unknown territory to Key, who recently directed “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” at Undermain Theater.
“[It was] a formally difficult script that demanded a lot of problem solving from our collaborative team,” Key said. “‘Uncle Vanya’ is more straightforward but much deeper. The rehearsals resemble a kind of gymnasium for the cast, where each actor comes forth on their cue and brings their all [sic] to the part, each of us spurring each other on to greater honesty and depth,” he said.
This play will provide an opportunity for the audience to see a living production that pulls from the past to make something truly great for the present. It is a tapestry of nine different narratives, and Key applauded Baker for managing to preserve the necessary depth of Chekhov.
“Her work is always marked by a great empathy for the common man and the quotidian tragedies and comedies of human existence,” Key said. “I think they are a truly well matched pair, and the simplicity of Baker’s translation allows us to experience the Chekhov in quite an immediate way.”
The show runs from Feb. 5 to 22 at the Wyly Studio Theatre. Tickets are $10 for students, and up to two tickets can be bought with one student ID. General admission is $20. Feb. 9 is a “pay-what-you-can” night, and tickets are first-come, first-serve. Visit the AT&T Performing Arts Center website for more details and to purchase tickets.