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Hungarian director László Marton of the Vígszínház Theatre of Budapest, who is internationally renowned for his fresh new contemporary interpretations of the classic plays of celebrated Russian dramatist and short-story writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), will restage his critically acclaimed version of John Murrell's lively translation of Uncle Vanya (Dyadya Vanya) for PlayMakers Repertory Company patrons from Feb. 26 to March 23 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. PRC guest director Marton originally staged this 1896 masterpiece of Modern Drama in 2001 for the Soulpepper Theatre Company of Toronto, Canada.
In reviewing the Soulpepper presentation, Richard Christiansen of The Chicago Tribune wrote: "This is a production of great emotional resonance and understanding, a passionate salute to the special genius of Chekhov drama...."
In PlayMakers' preshow publicity, director László Marton claimed: "Chekhov's works cross time and space to find the emotional heart. Uncle Vanya's message is that life is an opportunity which is missed. Chekhov's mastery is illuminated in the tiny details and fine development, then glued together for the bigger picture."
Marton confessed, "Chekhov has always been dear to my heart, but until recently I taught his plays extensively, but did not direct them. I am thrilled to be back in Chapel Hill with PlayMakers, directing my favorite Chekhov play."
In 2000, László Marton directed PRC's warmly applauded presentation of The School for Wives (L'École des femmes), a classic 1663 romantic comedy by French actor and playwright Molière (1622-73). (Marton originally staged the show for New Mexico's Santa Fe Stages, where it starred PRC company member Ray Dooley.)
Three members of Marton's creative team for the Soulpepper production — scene and costume designer Michael Levine, associate scene and costume designer Victoria Wallace, and composer/sound designer Richard Feren — will adapt their work for the Paul Green Theatre's thrust stage and the PlayMakers' stellar cast of company members and guest performers. Three PRC veterans — lighting designer Peter West, voice coach Jeffrey Blair Cornell, and PRC veteran movement coach Craig Turner — also serve on the production staff.
Marton told Robert's Reviews that the overall concept and the visual look of the PlayMakers' production of Uncle Vanya will be very similar to the concept and look of the Soulpepper presentation. "We are working in Michael Levine's set and Victoria Wallace's costumes," Marton explained. "Michael and Victoria made changes for this production, adapting it to this space and adapting it to this theater.
"The most exciting thing about working on a classic, such as Uncle Vanya, again and again," Marton claimed, "is the opportunity to direct a new set of actors, who bring different personalities, different talents, and different individual visions to the production."
Cast contributions, he said, are a very important part of the production process, which Marton said does not end on opening night, but continues throughout the entire run of the play. Although the two shows have certain similarities visually, Marton added, the characterizations and the details will be very different.
"The actors have different emotional memories," Marton claimed. "That's a very important thing: how the director uses the emotional memories of each actor."
The PlayMakers cast includes: PRC company members Kenneth P. Strong as depression-prone Ivan "Uncle Vanya" Voinitsky, manager of the family estate; Philip Davidson as Vanya's widowed former brother-in-law, pompous and indolent retired Professor Alexander Serebriakov, who inherited the title to the estate when Vanya's sister died; Johanna Melamed as Sonya, Serebriakov's daughter by his former marriage to Vanya's sister; Ray Dooley as love-starved country physician and pioneer environmentalist Dr. Astrov; Jeffrey Blair Cornell as impoverished landowner Ilia "Waffles" Telyegin; and Brian Meredith as the stooped-shouldered peasant workman Yefim.
Guest actresses include: PRC first-timer Deanne Lorette as the professor's beautiful but lazy and bored young wife Elena, with whom best friends Vanya and Astrov both fall in love; UNC-Chapel Hill drama graduate Adair P. Wiess as Vanya's mother and Serebriakov's former mother-in-law, Maria Voinitsky; and four-time Emmy nominee Joan Darling as the crusty old nurse Marina.
PRC company member Ken Strong is undaunted by the prospect of tackling the emotionally draining title role in Uncle Vanya. "I've tried my best not to think of it as the major role," Strong admitted to Robert's Reviews. "I think of it as a play László Marton is directing. He has such insight on Chekhov....
"Every show is different," Strong revealed. "The way he set it up is theatrical for the audience and for us."
Strong admitted that he had read, but never seen, a production of Uncle Vanya. "At first, I thought that was a bad thing," Strong said. "But now I think it was a good thing that I had never seen the show.
"Working with László is incredible, absolutely incredible," said Strong. "I'm very lucky to have worked with him."
How does Marton differ from other directors? "Well," Strong said, "he's a gentle soul. He's such a sweet man. He knows what he's talking about.
"I don't want to make other directors look bad," Strong said, "but I trust him with everything, and I got the feeling from him that he trusted me."
Strong explained, "Every director is different. László has such incredible respect and support for actors.
"László blocked the show immediately," Strong said. "That was different. He wants to know what every actor brings to the role."
He added, "What you see on stage is me and László and Chekhov and the ensemble, too, of course."
Another thing that helps Ken Strong perform at his peak is another opportunity to work opposite fellow PRC company member Ray Dooley, who plays Vanya's best friend and fierce rival for the fickle affections of the fair Elena.
"Ray Dooley is an inspiration to me," Strong said. "He makes me good. Every time I'm on stage with him, he inspires me. I think he's also brilliant as Astrov. What a complicated character that is."
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Uncle Vanya Tuesday-Saturday, March 4-8, 11-15, and 18-22, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 2, 9, 16, and 23, at 2 p.m. in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $9-$27. NOTE: All tickets are just $9 on Tuesday and seating is first come, first served. 919/962-PLAY (7529). http://www.playmakersrep.org/unclepage.html and http://www.laszlomarton.net/doc.htm.