Hilary Holbrook has worked as an actor and violinist in Chicago since graduating from Loyola in 2008. When not in the theater, Hilary enjoys knitting, antiquing, and adventures of all kinds!
Review: VANYA (or “That’s Life!”) at Rasaka Theatre Company
By Hilary Holbrook
Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could always tell what had previously happened in a person’s life to lead them to whatever situation they were facing in the present moment? Lavina Jadhwani’s VANYA (or “That’s Life!”) examines this exact question, though I don’t think this production has found the answer quite yet.
Based on Anton Chekov’s UNCLE VANYA, Jadhwani’s play begins at the end of the original story and works its way forward. This is an interesting concept because the audience knows where the characters end up after the first scene, and the rest of the play is an examination of what led them to that end. Along the way, several direct address moments from the actors help the audience understand where they are in the story. Each moment in the production is given equal worth, which makes it difficult for the audience to tell what exactly they should take away from the production as a whole, and a little more clarification between direct address and plot points was needed.
The cast was terrific, and I enjoyed each of their performances. The set, by Andrew Swanson, was beautiful in its simplicity, and there were moments where everything looked stunning against the backdrop of Cat Wilson’s lights. The sound design, by Matt Reich, infused numerous late 90’s/early 00’s pop songs in between the scenes, with some being recorded and others played live by Raj Bond (Waffles). This added a great deal of comedy to the piece, but, aside from necessary transition music, I don’t know what these particular songs added. While I did think it was funny that they managed to find a soulful and pleasant version of a Miley Cyrus song, I found myself thinking about the music itself, and not how it related to what I was seeing on stage.
I’ve seen several shows by Rasaka Theatre Company, and I always enjoy myself. This company excels at telling stories that are simple and yet have a profound impact. Although this production would have benefited from another week in the rehearsal room, there is still much to celebrate here. At its core, this production highlighted the important reminder that, although we can communicate in a myriad of ways, we all want the same things: love, acceptance, purpose, family, friendship, etc. That is a welcome reminder that should never get old.