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Jean Marsh in a Chekhov play?

By David Sterrit / July 23, 1981



Garden City, N.Y.

Uncle Vanya. Starring Jean Marsh and Wayne Rogers. Play by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Philip Minor. It's always fun to see familiar faces in new surroundings.

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To millions of TV-watchers, Jean Marsh is Rose, the housemaid of "Upstairs, Downstairs." To an even larger audience, Wayne Rogers is Trapper John, the zany surgeon of "M*A*S*H" and the somewhat more subdued doctor of "House Calls."

In a bold stroke, the Actors Conservatory Theater at Adelphi University -- where Miss Marsh is serving as artistic director -- has plunked these performers into the Serebryakov estate, that dreary Russian outpost explored so eloquently by Anton Chekhov in "Uncle Vanya."

Both actors fare reasonably well in their unaccustomed surroundings. As Sonya, forever frustrated in love, Miss Marsh has the right mixture of yearning and humility. As Astrov, bemused and confused by his own emotions, Rogers -- playing yet another doctor! -- looks the part to a T, and brings it the necessary balance of assertion and restraint.

Unfortunately, though, neither the stars nor their colleagues manage to plumb the deeper values of this gently moving drama. Like many characters in Chekhov, the ones in "Uncle Vanya" feel things deeply and even passionately, but lack ways and means of fulfilling themselves and their dreams.It's essential to convey the depths of their tragicomically still waters, and this rarely happens in the Adelphi production. The surface is all we see or sense -- and it's usually a rather lifeless surface.

Still, there are impressive signs of life, at times. As the title character, David Canary creates quite a storm when he erupts in murderous rage at the climax. Leroy Logan has a crusty energy as the retired professor who stands at the center of the action. The women are played with appropriate dignity, especially the languishing Yelena, portrayed by Jill Tanner. And Robert Blumenfeld looks amusingly right as the impoverished Waffles -- except when called on to play his guitar, an important prop that loses all its effect in the hands of a gifted actor who, through no fault of his own, appears to be no musician.

The attractive and versatile set is by Allen D. Cornell, with costumes by Jeffrey Ullman. The director is Philip Minor, who has taken a respectable but ultimately shallow approach to his classic material. The second and final production of the Adelphi summer season at the Olmsted Theater will be "A Woman of Paris," a 19th-century French farce by Henri Becque, opening Aug. 2. Geraldine Page will star under Minor's direction.