LONGING OF THE SOUL

Suna Vuori

Newspaper: HELSINGIN SANOMAT / 25 November 2011

     Mirrors, a tree, and water. These are the elements important for Andriy Zholdak, which expand and deepen the scenery miracle onstage.

    Their fickle calling for a touch surfaces frame the scenes, in which people are about to suffocate from yearning and melancholy. Scenes, in which the unuttered passion scorches the rejected admirers; sentenced to oblivion, lovers intertwine their hair into one, wrap up in a carpet and devour apples with so much greed as though they are never going to become satiated.

      Those who seek nothing else catch the light and scents left behind the rapture, and draw in a lungsful of missed opportunities.

      The “Diana” stage, that is, the Klockrike Theater hall designated to fit 110 spectators only, is not a roomy one indeed. Yet it suits wonderfully the play Uncle Vania written by Anton Chekhov 111 years ago with its claustrophobic atmosphere, suppressed feelings and characters ruthless in their realism.

      An idle company gathered in an estate is seeking entertainment in any way possible: young women seduce men, men yield to seduction with changing success. Those who would have loads of work in the fall during the harvest season are now busy being a good company to the estate’s proprietor, a professor who arrived from town (Serebriakov, Anders Larsson), and his beautiful but broken-hearted young wife (Elena Andreyevna, Krista Kosonen).

      Her daughter – Sonia (Alma Peusti) has been in love with doctor Astrov (Jan Korander) for years, who, in his turn, is fascinated by Elena Andreyevna, just like the drunkard Voinitskiyi living in the estate – the man known as Uncle Vania (Jussi Jonson).

      Elena Andreyevna is in her turn strongly attracted to Astrov; and this situation leaves everyone sleepless. “Let everyone be sleepless”, goes the famous aria from Pucinni’s opera Turandot, which receives superfluous emphasis in the play’s end.

      Zholdak possesses a bold hand, however, the power of his directing lies primarily in the precision of details.

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   Just as well as the clearly visible landscape, the sharp gleams dashing past the mind can be observed in the shape of multifaceted sculptures or arrangements disclosing their secrets at a most scrupulous look only.

     The heavy atmosphere of impressive scenes inclines one towards sleep. It can also happen that a portion of spectator charm speaking in the language of subconscience breaks, that is, if the viewer has seen many Zholdak’s plays already.

     The direction styles alter; the language remains the same. Uncle Vania can in any case be deemed another conquered peak for the director, for, in view of his physical scale, he is a close-up figure characteristic of the late Ingmar Bergman and his cinema sketches.

      In spite of water, mirrors, and doors, as well as apples, milk and wine bottles, footbridges, feathers, chicken eggs, fireplaces, teacups, samovars, and, well, finally, lush costumes by Tuomas Lampninen, fruitful late summer nature and slightly choking interiors leave the largest portion of space at the background.

      As in Anna Karenina, which is now two years old, people here also represent merely naked emotions and a desire for the sake of desire at times. At the distance of a touch, this looks so convincing that every now and then you somehow forget it that these people onstage are actually actors playing their roles.

      The spectator can feel Elena’s disgust to the touches of her husband in their body just as distinctly as the passion that sparks up between her and Astrov. Like it or not, but you start hoping that their passion will be satisfied, even though any reader of Chekhov knows that this is not possible.

      Taking into account Zholdak’s direction style, Uncle Vania is exceptionally close to the original text.

      At the cue level, to the extent that I can judge, nothing was left out; but it contains no additions either. In the translation, apart from the water nymph (whose mythical significance is a little downplayed, when the siren in the image of Elena Andreyevna floundering in the lake carries her tail around in a beach bag), we even see the influence of the Japanese buto dance and oriental martial arts.

      These influences can be considered (in addition to an interesting detour in director’s aesthetics which is unpredictable even as it is) an ironical hint at the Japanese theater with a hall hosting a few hundred spectators, where Zholdak once refused to hold a production, since he considered the stage to be too small.

      In my view, the most exciting thing about Uncle Vania is how it displays emotions. They cannot be called anything but real: so innocent, frivolous and playful seem to be the lovers; so heavy is the treading of the enviers. So captivating is everything that comes true in phantasies alone. And what idiots people turn into without love!

      The actors are fully concordant with the requirements; though the main character is head and shoulders above the rest even presently (same as in Anna Karenina which is a work considered to be on a par with Uncle Vania).

       The all-consuming mimics of Krista Kosonen, just as shy and pristine as sly and aroused, leaves a strong impression, and her encounters with the steadfast Astrov (Jan Korander) electrify the atmosphere. Jussi Jonson plays stylishly the disappointed uncle Vania, who has finally put up with his fate. Sonia (Alma Peusti) radiates charming light and decisiveness, though in the end the self-aware cheeky infantility becomes rather annoying. 

       A slightly “raw” play, it has nonetheless impressed me during the Wednesday premier already. There were technical issues during the realization of the quite ambitious lighting plan by Pietu Pietiainen, therefore, the last of the four acts of the play that lasted three and a half hours seemed unnecessarily complicated. Thus, for instance, the playing of “Let everyone be sleepless” in the last act in different forms became somewhat tedious and the monologue designated to exalt Sonia turned out to be a serious durability test for one’s patience.

       The conclusion made by Sonia, who was left in the estate without any sound perspective, after all the drama, in its brevity and misleading triviality has nonetheless become a pearl of dramaturgy:

 “Oh well, what’s to do, you’ve got to live on!”

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