Off Broadway: Uncle Vanya at the Pearl Theater and Almost Home at the Acorn

The Pearl Theater's revival of Uncle Vanya illustrates this fine company's signature charm, and does one better, doing Anton Chekhov the good service of playing his tragicomedy for humor over gravitas. Christopher Durang's Tony-winning Chekhov sendup, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, made it all laughs. At the Pearl, when the characters speak lines like "I'm so bored," the line is more than a cute dig to anyone without the means to live in their upscale country home with servants. On opening night this week, Dominic Cuskern, who plays the revered, hypochondriac professor spoke about these "characters," egotistical eccentrics, the housebound enslaved by their sense of duty, the lovelorn consumed by suppressed passions. They're funny!

If you are a Pearl regular, you might be disappointed that Carol Schultz and Robin Leslie Brown have so little to do. As Marina, the family nurse, Brown said she learned to make the sign of the cross backwards, they way the Russians do. Director Hal Brooks does well with the troupe, including Rachel Botchan, Chris Mixon, Brad Heberlee, and Joie Bauer. A special mention for Michelle Beck, refreshing as the young Sonya who clearly will not get her man, the good doctor Astrov (Bradford Cover) whose appeal may be timely: gone green, he plants trees and loves forests.

A young man's future is at stake in Almost Home, the debut of playwright Walter Anderson. Johnny (Jonny Orsini) comes home to a humble apartment in the Bronx from a tour in Vietnam, a war hero. His father (Joe Lisi), a decorated veteran of WWII, shares some memories of that war with his son, revealing experiences that explain his pact with the devil in the form of drink and a particularly corrupt police chief named Pappas (James McCaffrey). But what's next for Johnny? Can you take the boy out of the Bronx? As directed by Michael Parva, everyone including his mother (Karen Ziemba) and teacher (Brenda Pressley) have plans for him. Turns out, Johnny has some demons of his own, that may not go away even if he manages to leave home.

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