Soulpepper troupe spices up Toronto. Great cities are known for the theater companies they keep. Chicago has a wealth of hallmark troupes, presenting everything from the hallowed classics to new works by emerging artists; the reputations of these companies are furthered by tours and transfers to other cities. In Toronto, a city with many similarities to Chicago, the group to watch – one that in its short four seasons has attracted critical attention and audience enthusiasm – is Soulpepper Theatre Company. […] In both the 1999 and 2000 seasons, Marton and Soulpepper had a surprising hit in their adaptation of the very early Chekhov drama Platonov. It did well at the box office and recently won the Dora award (Toronto’s version of the Tonys) as best production of the year. This year, their revelatory Vanya, which uses the same production designer, Michael Levine, and many of the same cast members of Platonov, stands as a logical extension of their earlier work. […] Every detail of the production has been invested with meaning, and every character has been drawn with care. This is Vanya of great emotional resonance and understanding, a passionate salute to the special genius of Chekhov drama, and a tribute to the craftsmanship and artistry of Marton and Soulpepper.
12 August, 2001
Director László Marton has created an intimate production capable of the subtle shifts between tragedy and comedy essential to Vanya‘s success. Marton smartly pushes the intimacy to the point of claustrophobia, thus emphasizing one of Vanya‘s central ironies: that even isolation can be stifling. He is greatly aided by designer Michael Levine, who, in a powerfully effective visual, captures the oppressive potential of wide-open spaces by positioning a tiny and cluttered, yet wall-less, set in the middle of the cavernous du Maurier Theatre. […] a powerful production, another compelling exploration of Chekhov’s inspired view of the human condition by a company well equipped for the task.
25 July, 2002
Chekhov plus Soulpepper plus director László Marton equals great theatre. With Platonov in 1999 and 2000, adapters Susan Coyne and Marton had shape a coherent play from the raw material of a rambling unperformable work. With Uncle Vanya in John Murrell’s crisp translation, the company begins with a masterpiece of world theatre and makes it seem brand new. As with Platonov, Marton draws incredibly detailed performances from the entire cast, performances so natural they seem improvised. With the characters and their situations brought so fully to life, this now becomes the best production of this play I have seen […] Unlike previous productions that misguidedly try to add glamour or nostalgia to life in the country in 19th-century Russia, Marton and his design team have emphasized Vanya’s and his niece Sonya’s poverty. Allusions to this abound especially in the explosive third act, but this is the first time I’ve seen a director take them seriously […] The central room of the house is lit by a single bare light bulb that has to be moved from lamp to lamp. When the electricity fails in Act 2, Kevin Lamotte gives us the highly realistic effect of how dark a room would be if lit by only two candles. This physical darkness underscores the metaphor various characters use about their lives: a glimmer of light far off gives one the courage to go on despite pain and suffering […] Marton has focused this production on the mental strategies the characters use for survival. The mud, the storm, the rain only reinforce the tenuousness of man’s life on earth and the need for spiritual as well as physical shelter. This is a bleaker interpretation than usual but one that rings truer and clarifies more aspects of the play than any other I’ve seen. All those involved in the directionless Seagull now playing in Stratford should be bused in for an object lesson in how Chekhov should be performed […] this Uncle Vanya proves yet again that Soulpepper can achieve greatness.
It may have only one 60-watt bulb to its name, but this production shines light into many corners of Uncle Vanya.
The Globe and Mail
2 August 2001
When Soulpepper do Chekov, with László Marton directing, they are the best. This year’s Uncle Vanya may be even better than last’s year’s Platonov, even if it lacks the buccaneering appeal that comes from harnessing an unfamiliar monster of a play with sprawling action and a sprawling cast. Vanya is a far tighter work. It is also, obviously, a greater one – one of the most searching, least sentimental analyses of human failure ever written and also one of the most compassionate accounts of the things that, struggling, we do to ourselves and one another. Its emotional impact here is tremendous. Its physical impact is remarkable, too. One image after another clings to the mind, beginning with the sight of rain streaming down an almost-transparent curtain before the action begins – a forecast of the storm that breaks out a whole act later and that seems second only among dramatic tempests to the one in King Lear. […] This kind of physicality is not what we except in Chekhov, thought it is a direct descendant of what Marton, a Hungarian, gave us in Platonov. I described that play as “sprawling” and my abiding memory of it is of people spreading themselves out on sofas and on floors. They do the same here. Vanya recklessly, Elena with a kind of provocative decorum, everybody else in between […] Michael Levine’s set, without walls but compressing all the material of several lifetimes, is brilliant. […] At the end the rain-soaked scrim descends again, and we are left – as I imagine they are behind it – gasping and proud.
The rain-soaked plastic sheeting that serves as a stage curtain at Toronto’s du Maurier Theatre Centre is rolled up once more and Soulpepper Theatre Company revives its gritty, clowning and deeply moving version of Uncle Vanya […] Amongst the cups of cold tea and the discarded shoes, Soulpepper has found the richness and complexity of life.
The Globe and Mail
20 July, 2002
It’s the different cultural perspective that László brings to Chekhov that has been so successful and so popular with the audiences. It’s a fresh look at plays we thought we knew. (Albert Schultz on László Marton)
The Toronto Star
14 July, 2002
None so moving as this. To caricature, but not by much: most productions of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya concern a group of perfectly sweet, civilizes people whose lives are wrecked by a selfish and pompous loudmouth, generally referred to as the Professor, who just happens to hold their fates his hands. In László Marton’s triumphant Soulpepper production, both sides have been reappraised […] Marton, a Hungarian, gets us away from the genteel English-speaking Chekhovian tradition – and also, to be fair, from the genteel Russian-speaking Chekhovian tradition; […] The physicality of this production may or may not be especially Slavic but it is certainly exhilarating. Think of Matamoros’ love affair with furniture; he hides in it, and virtually makes love to a chair, caressing it as he fantasies about comforting Elena during a storm. Or think of Thomson, at her last moment, leaping into Schultz’s arms, and him lifting her off the ground, when it’s too late to do either of them good or harm.
26 July, 2002