“Drunkle Vanya,” Chekhov’s Drunker, Funnier Brother
By Sarah Downs
In a Rococo bar on the second floor of a boisterous restaurant on West 52nd St., it’s dawn in the Russian hinterlands, and the Vanya household stirs. Well, actually it’s been stirring for three days straight, lurching from quiet rage to despair with dashes of longing, isolation and darkness to brighten the mood.
Vanya (Joel Rainwater), trapped in a dull routine of farming on an isolated patch of land owned by his niece Sonya (Leah Walsh) is feeling the strain of living with his pompous, self-centered brother-in-law Professor Alexander (Sean Tarrant), who has recently moved in and seems to think he runs the joint. In a perennial state of hypochondria, he constantly demands the attention his beautiful wife Yelena (Amanda Sykes) and Vanya’s subservient sidekick Waffles (Josh Sauerman.) Dr. Astrov (Christopher Tocco) the last doctor on Earth who still makes house calls is brought in and promptly puts down roots.
Meanwhile, Vanya, mad for his sister-in-law, increasingly debases himself as he pleas for her love, suffering in silence without the silence. Emotions roil, storms rage, hearts pound, and the vodka keeps flowing. True to its brief, Three Day Hangover has combined a classic play with that time-honored party staple – the drinking game. In a three-dimensional version of Mad Libs ($10 for the reader who gets that reference) the cast has the audience chugging vodka and yelling “Nastrovya!,” creating a performance that is both hilarious and touching. The text is presented irreverently, with modern references peppered throughout, and yet the expertly delivered one-liners and physical comedy do not derail the serious work. You believe Vanya’s anger, Dr. Astrov’s drunkenness, Sonya’s sweet longing. As Vanya Joel Rainwater exudes a taught in-your-face energy, springing with controlled outbursts of emotion; Christopher Tocco’s handsome Dr. Astrov, another man obsessed with Yelena is the epitome of the brooding, rebellious intellectual.
Amanda Sykes is their believable love object — gorgeous and self-possessed, the simmering, self-assured trophy wife accustomed to male attention but exasperated by it nonetheless. In contrast, Leah Walsh combines strength and quiet, her prettiness squelched and spirit dampened by years of being ignored. Lanky and oddly endearing, Sean Tarrant embodies the proverbially self-absorbed academic, childishly wrapped up in himself. He’s a man born to wear (borrowed) elbow patches. Josh Sauerman as Waffles is our jester, a chatty cipher anxious to avoid being his own man.
Throughout, this committed, talented ensemble breeze back and forth across the fourth wall. In their skilled hands the co-existence of broad comedy and serious storytelling hovers securely on the brink of chaos to the audience’s delight. Three Day Hangover has once again successfully melded comedy and classic play for a joyous evening of immersive theater. Don’t say “nyet” to this opportunity to enjoy the 3DH experience.
“Drunkle Vanya” at Tolstoy’s Lounge in the Samovar Restaurant, 256 West 52nd St. Opens February 3rd and runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through March 4th. (No performances on Sat Feb 4, and Thur Feb 16.) With: Joel Rainwater, Amanda Sykes, Christopher Tocco, Leah Walsh, Sean Tarrant and Josh Sauerman; adapted and directed by Lori Wolter Hudson; costumes by Caitlin Cisek; Brooke Bell, production stage manager; produced bv Three Day Hangover (Beth Gardiner, David Hudson and Lori Walter Hudson) with Roman Gambourg, Darren Sussman, and Misha von Shats. Tickets, which range from $29 to $149 can be purchased by phone at 866-811-4111, or online at www.drunklevanya.com. Choose your preferred social class: Imperial Family (open bar, fine food); Aristocracy (infused vodka, fine food); Bourgeoisie (shot and a nibble); or Proletariat (you get a shot). Running time: 1:45 minutes, including intermission.