Long considered a theatrical classic, at its core “Uncle Vanya” is a play about the struggles of a routine existence. Annie Baker has done more than update the language of this 1898 masterpiece, she has created a fresh, colloquial version that comes at the material from a modern perspective.

Executive Director Wendy Poole chose the work for The Theater Project this season after her experience with a previous Baker play.

“I was so moved by Annie Baker’s simple, yet poignant writing style in ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ that when a friend told me about this adaptation I couldn’t wait to read it. I thought it would be very interesting to have a woman write a modern adaptation of Uncle Vanya,” said Poole.

Christopher Price, who also directed The Theater Project’s production of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” was taken with Baker’s ear for dialogue.

“She writes simply and undramatically,” he said, “thereby giving her characters the ability to express themselves with subtle honesty. When I found that she had adapted ‘Uncle Vanya’ I jumped at the opportunity to direct this production. We see real lives being played out before us with the frustration, sadness, delight and absurdity that we so readily identify with. Nothing happens and everything happens. This combination of playwrights is compelling to say the least.”

In the play, an elderly professor and his much younger, glamorous second wife Yelena return to their country estate after a long absence. Vanya, who has been caretaker of the estate for 25 years, is the brother of the professor’s deceased first wife, and is passionately in love with Yelena.

Country doctor Astrov, called to the estate to care for the ailing professor, is also in love with Yelena. The household is crumbling with annoyance and despair, and into this mix comes the professor’s announcement that he plans to sell the estate. Vanya, haunted by the man he might have been, does not take the news well.

In addition to award-winning director Christopher Price, “Uncle Vanya” will feature several actors previously featured at The Theater Project, including Payne Ratner, Craig Ela, David Butler, Maureen Butler, and Abigail Killeen as Yelena.

Killeen, who is also an assistant professor of theater at Bowdoin College, was last onstage at The Theater Project in “QED,” a play about noted scientist Richard Feynman. She has also acted locally with Portland Stage Company, The Good Theater, and Fenix Theatre Company.

“Uncle Vanya” will be onstage at The Theater Project from Jan. 31 through Feb. 9. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. All tickets are Pay-What-You-Want, available at www.theaterproject.com or by calling 207-729-8584. The Theater Project is at 14 School Street.


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