Minor Character ★★★★
Any production of Uncle Vanya inevitably rises and falls on the success of its translation. Let the academics debate which one is the best. For my part, I’ve loved Richard Nelson’s for its austerity, Annie Baker’s for its colloquialisms, and Andrew Upton’s for its giddy comedy.
But why stop at just one translation? New Saloon has incorporated six—by Marian Fell, Laurence Senelick, Paul Schmidt, Carol Rocamora, Milo Cramer, and Google Translate—in its Vanya remix, Minor Character, at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival. The result is a giddy, vodka-spiked concoction that Chekhov fans will lap up.
The translations aren’t woven together tapestry-style; rather, they’re piled on top of each other, delivered by assorted actors—Milo Cramer, Ron Domingo, Rona Figueroa, Fernando Gonzalez, LaToya Lewis, Caitlin Morris, and Madeline Wise—playing the same parts. Think of a trio of neurotic Vanyas, a group of aloof Yelenas, a bunch of drunken doctor Astrovs. (The exception to the multi-casting: the inimitable David Greenspan, who plays only the ill-tempered old professor, Serebryakov. “I sit here in this graveyard surrounded by stupid people saying stupid things!” he harrumphs.) Can it get overwhelming? Of course. But massive amounts of everything—boredom, wasted potential, alcohol—is all these characters know.
A caveat: If you aren’t familiar with Vanya, it’ll take you a scene or two to get up to speed. And even if you are familiar with Vanya, it might take you a few minutes to figure out who’s who. Hint: Look for the costume cues.
[50/50] old school animation ★★
Part confessional, part horror story, part can-you-believe-it meditation on casual cruelty, [50/50] old school animation), also at the Public’s UTR, explores the psychology of pain. “I want to cause suffering that is special and has a lasting effect on the world,” explains Julia Mounsey (she created the show with Peter Mills Weiss, and shares coauthor credit with Weiss, Mo Fry Pasic, and Sophie Weisskoff). A petite performer with nondescript clothing and an emotionless delivery, Mounsey doesn’t look threatening. But as you listen to her detail how she treats her friend—standing her up for dates, stealing cash, pouring a drink in her purse, drowning her phone, and much, much worse—you realize she just might have an endless capacity for malice. “When I’m hurting her, I don’t feel like I’m the cause of her pain. I feel like I’m the conduit. If that makes sense?” To me, frankly, it doesn’t. Perhaps as an aid, she offers a description of the animated GIF from which the show takes its title—a girl being slowly dissected by a laser, peeled out of her skin, and pulled limb from limb. She describes it with almost artistic reverence: “That’s how I’d like my friends to suffer.”
Thankfully, we don’t see her friend suffer—but we do meet her (played by the terrific Mo Fry Pasic), and get to know her through a series of one-sided conversations with her mom (“Why are you menopausing me right now, seriously?”), her sister, and another friend. Personality-wise, she’s probably the polar opposite of the predatory Julia: loquacious, open, trusting. A nattering parakeet video underscores her mile-a-minute chatter. When she runs out of people to talk to, she launches into a breakneck version of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”: “I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined,” she sings.
Maybe I needed to, as Bedingfield wrote, release my inhibitions. But I couldn’t get past the brutality lurking on the horizon. When is she going to be taken apart, limb from limb? I’m not sure I want to know.
The Under the Radar Festival opened January 3, 2019, at the Public Theater (and other venues) and runs through January 13. Tickets and information: publictheater.org
Minor Character opened January 9, 2019, at the Public Theater and runs through January 13.
[50/50] old school animation Frankenstein opened January 11, 2019, at the Public Theater and runs through January 13.