Jeffrey Lo certainly understands what it is to direct a show that has been fueled by a long passion.
It was in his third year of college when he first saw a production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” The show left an indelible mark on him, firmly planted into his mind’s file cabinet, with the opportunity to direct the show to be extracted at the absolute right time.
That time has finally arrived.
The Pear Theatre in Mountain View has become quite a home for the famed Russian playwright’s work, having produced both “The Cherry Orchard” and “Three Sisters” in recent years. And when the Pear learned of Lo’s desires to direct the piece, director and company joined forces.
“It was such a visceral experience watching that play and it really stuck with me for the last seven or eight years,” said Lo, 27. “There is a really heartbreaking moment for one of the characters, and at the same time both my friend and I put our programs in front of our faces to hide our tears.
“It was one of my favorite moments as an audience member.”
As is the case with much of Chekhov’s work, there is heartbreak aplenty. The story follows the Professor Serebryakov and his second wife who is many years his junior as they return to his country estate, a home that supports the couple’s urban life together. It is at the estate where other characters and their little inconsequential lives are lived – Vanya, who manages the estate, local doctor Astrov and the plain Sonia, devastated by her lack of beauty. Chekhov’s play explores themes such as a life that has been long wasted, and the questioning of one’s existence, greatly accentuated by the concluding action of the Professor.
“Uncle Vanya” was first published in 1897, but saw its debut at the Moscow Art Theatre two years later, directed by famed theatre-maker Konstantin Stanislavsky, who also performed as Astrov in that production.
Stephen Muterspaugh is tackling the title role in the show, a role he is thrilled to take on. While looking at the arc of the various characters, Muterspaugh has been struck by the variety that lies in Chekhov’s work, with the interpretations lying directly in the audience’s lap.
“Stanislavsky said that Chekhov’s plays were tragedies, but Chekhov said they were comedies,” said Muterspaugh. “For myself, we play the moments honestly, and if you look for a laugh, you’re never going to find a laugh. The laughter lies in the absurd nature of the moments. Someone can be laughing and someone can be tearing up in the same emotional moment.”
Lo has also long been fascinated by the nature of Chekhov’s work, understanding too that, while these are comedies, they function with a very different comedic sensibility.
“They are so dark and everyone is struggling to get by day to day,” said Lo. “I find it so fascinating how Chekhov is able to find humor in his character’s everyday lives.”
Because the play is so thoughtful, Muterspaugh has found himself emotionally taxed at the end of any performance. And working with someone who has loved Chekhov as much as Lo certainly gives the show another layer of truth.
“Jeffrey is very good at letting us play and giving us a gentle, guiding hand, letting us guide it ourselves,” said Muterspaugh. “He is good at allowing us to find the moment and play.”
One thing that resonates with audiences is that Chekhov’s themes are timeless. For many who have seen their lives go in a direction that differs from the one planned in an ideal youth, plays like “Uncle Vanya” hit a nerve.
“Chekhov wrote stories about people dealing with what their lives were going to be, and then what their lives are and how they become stuck in that disappointment,” said Muterspaugh. “That is why it’s timeless, because we all have taken a look back and said this wasn’t what I thought my life would be.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Pear Theatre presents “Uncle Vanya”
Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
Through March 13th
The Pear Theatre
1110 La Avenida Street
Mountain View, CA
Tickets range from $10 to $35
For tickets, call 650-254-1148 or visit thepear.org