Feature photo- Jered McLenigan, Lindsay Smiling, and Suli Holum. By Johanna Austin
Minor Character, which kicks off The Wilma Theater’s 2021-2022 season, absolutely should not be missed. If you’ve been longing for a live performance and want to be blown away by something right off the bat, this is it. Minor Character, Six Translations of Uncle Vanya at the Same Time, is playing through October 24th and if you can’t see it live for whatever reason, you can purchase a streaming ticket here for viewing between October 25th and November 7th.
This is the regional premiere of Minor Character which debuted in New York and was created by New Saloon Theatre Company (co-founded by the Wilma’s Co-Artistic Director Morgan Green). The Wilma’s version is directed by Co-Artistic Director Yury Urnov and features performers from the HotHouse Company who consistently puts on incredible shows with dedicated performances. Not once have I been disappointed with a performance at the Wilma, including all of last year’s digital content. Seeing familiar faces on stage- the cast includes Ross Beschler, Keith Conallen, Sarah Gliko, Suli Holum, Justin Jain, Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare, and Lindsay Smiling- was enough to know that Minor Character would be a great piece of work. You’re going to have a good time with them!
Minor Character follows the plot of 1898’s Uncle Vanya by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. The original play has been transformed and translated many times over the past century and this show presents six versions. At once. Including one via Google Translate! It’s modernized, funny, even wacky at times. And there’s a teeny tiny bit of audience participation! Minor Character shakes up a classic play, blends together four acts with six sets of dialog and creates an impressive non-stop 100ish minutes performance. Every ounce of stage presences that may have been lost to performers and audiences since March 2020 came through here.
It’s so hard to pinpoint a stand-out cast member because these eight actors were given the extraordinary task of playing many characters in one single performance. They take turns as Uncle Vanya, Sonya, The Professor, Astrov, Vanya’s old mother, Marina, Waffles, and the Professor’s wife Yelena (who is far too young for him!). Some are in love with each other, some are not. Some drink. Some drink a lot. Someone may try to shoot someone. There’s a lot going on! Simple props and minor additions to outfits transform the cast members into another character (or two) in seconds. There’s action all over the stage. They move and climb around each other (and even ride bikes at points!) beautifully, as if the entire performance is an intricately choreographed routine. I’m sure it is. The actors on stage need to be in sync with one another and it’s amazing to watch how determined each one is as others around them are speaking similar lines and playing the same characters, overlapping quite often. This ensemble cast relies on one another and each individual performer works hard to hold up the others. If one trips, they all could. Minor Character is no doubt a difficult show to perform and the eight HotHouse members are seamless.
What does stand out though is the original music created for Minor Character. Each actor performing those songs- with instruments and strong vocals- live on stage. Just another layer to this already detailed performance and another reason there’s nothing like live theater.
Make plans to see Minor Character. To read Wilma’s safety policy, click here. This includes proof of vaccination, masks at all time, no eating or drinking inside the theatre (you can enjoy refreshments from Good Karma Cafe in the lobby only), contactless ticketing, digital programs (there are QR codes at each seat and all over the building so you can read more about the show on your phone), limited capacity, and no intermission (seriously, use the bathroom before the show because you do not want to miss a single second of the action on stage during Minor Character).
It’s been about 18 months or more since any of us have stepped foot in one, so why not go all out and see six performances at once? In fact, see it twice if you can. For tickets, visit the Wilma Theater’s website.