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THEATER REVIEW Vanya (Or, 'That's Life!')
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Sean Margaret Wagner
2017-01-10

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Playwright: Lavina Jadhwani. At: Rasaka Theatre Company at The Edge Theatre, 5154 N. Broadway. Tickets: rasakatheatre.com; $15-$30. Runs through: Feb. 3

Rasaka Theatre Company offers a delightful new spin on an old Russian standby with their canny adaptation Vanya ( Or, "That's Life!" ). Director Kaiser Ahmed and author Lavina Jadhwani breathe a lot of modern language, modern music and casual fourth wall dismissal into Chekov's wistfully sad ode to wasting your life.

We traverse backward from the end of a months-long, tedious stay at Professor Alexander's ( Bill Chamberlain ) sprawling countryside estate, which is run by brother-in-law Vanya ( Rom Barkhordar ) and daughter Sonya ( Puja Mohindra ) in his absence. Alexander and his new wife Yelena ( Tiffany Renee Johnson ) would much rather sell the estate to fund a comfortable future in the city, but must contend with their despondent family, the amorous Doctor Astrov ( Richard Costes ), and disgruntled house staff ( Allison Cain and Raj Bond ). All of the denizens of this estate walk back their deepest wants and regrets as the clocks tick backwards, allowing us to experience their warmness and fondness only at the 11th hour ( or would it be the first hour, technically? ).

Because the characters are aware they are being observed through this revisit of their unraveling, they are hoping they can persuade us to abandon the story for a song or an aside. For instance, in a last ditch effort, Abramov, played and signed winningly by deaf actor Richard Costes, begs us not to make him go through with dismissing perpetually lovelorn Sonya. Alas, even our interceding can't change the script. Raj Bond as Waffles strums almost too appropriate top-40 songs, maybe in the hopes that Kelly Clarkson & Sheryl Crow might have some advice to stop their downward spiral.

The cast is the perfect mix of weird and extraordinary talent, evoking Chekov's original menagerie of nervous wrecks and giving us a richly diverse ensemble without breaking a drop of sweat. Rom Barkhordar brilliantly showcases his unusually backward journey from unhinged to full of hope as Vanya. Puja Mohindra's Sonya lets worry weigh on her heavily, like she's almost being smothered by her giant sweater. Tiffany Renee Johnson crosses over the line of sly manipulator and oblivious socialite so often she is a blur. Finally, Allison Cain and Raj Bond as Marina and Waffles seem to embody our basic need for rest and comfort so fittingly, it's hard not to be drawn in. Rasaka Theatre's Vanya is a perfectly strange ode to the original.


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