Review: ‘Uncle Vanya’ an unexpected charmer

Nov. 10, 2012 | 0 Comments
Viewers will be treated to a play within a play in Uncle Vanya and Zombies, which is playing at Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii, through Nov. 18. --Courtesy Kennedy Theatre

Viewers will be treated to a play within a play during "Uncle Vanya and Zombies," playing at Kennedy Theatre through Nov. 18. (Courtesy Kennedy Theatre)

REVIEW BY RYAN SENAGA / Special to the Star-Advertiser

If you can mix zombies with “Pride and Prejudice,” why stop at that classic? Kennedy Theatre’s second offering On the Mainstage merges Anton Chekhov and the walking dead in “Uncle Vanya and Zombies.”

‘Uncle Vanya and Zombies’

» Where: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 17 and 2 p.m. Nov. 18; pre-show discussion at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9, 16 and 17; post-show discussion at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 16
» Cost: $5 to $24
» Info: 956-7655 or

Eighteen months ago, an accident on a nuclear submarine in Pearl Harbor turned Oahu into a complete wasteland infested with zombies. (Hilo is now the state capital.) Kennedy Theatre on the UH-Manoa campus has been converted into a television studio that televises a game show mutated from the incident: “Theatre Masterpieces and Zombies.”

Hosted by Walt Gaines and popular local drag queen Cocoa Chandelier, contestants must act in a classical play while at the same time trying to avoid being eaten by zombies occasionally let loose by Chandelier — and this episode’s selection is the Russian drama “Uncle Vanya” by Chekhov. (The previous ratings winner was “The Tempest and Zombies.”) Actors must stay in character and not miss a line or be disqualified. The winner can choose a scholarship at the prestigious college of their choice: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc.

This version of “Uncle Vanya” itself is updated with mentions of blogs, appearances of iPads and yoga mats, and a loud sampling of a single by the currently infamous band Pussy Riot. 

The eight contestants turn in appropriately frazzled performances, especially impressive since each are basically performing the actual Chekhov play while being chased around the stage by the lounging (or lunging) dead. 

Harold Wong as Waffles is particularly hilariously rebellious as a former militia member, taking every opportunity to give the finger to the hosts or make a defiant masturbatory motion. Chandelier manages to steal the show with a one-liner about the campus’s own botched Stevie Wonder concert as well as an off-hand remark about the first zombie victim: “We don’t have a black guy so we might as well take out the Asian first.”

Actual UH English professor Craig Howes has a cameo as a guest on the program, there to explain the relationship Chekhov had to “Uncle Vanya.” Howes actually manages to give a lecture with a straight face even though there is a recently “turned” zombie pounding on a door behind him.

 Suffice to say, this is local satire at its blackest. The pace occasionally goes flat and bogs down to a zombie crawl though — which is ironic since the stage is surrounded by a cage filled with the ravenous, moaning, screeching beasts — but there is always a punchline to eventually fill in the darkness.

A zombie version of “The Nutcracker” has to be seen to be believed. There’s even audience harassment as host Gaines steps off the stage to interview unsuspecting theater folk in their seats. Zombies are even in the lobby, growling at you during the check in process.

“The Walking Dead” fans, “Resident Evil” junkies, and other fanatics of the genre will, ahem, eat “Uncle Vanya and Zombies” up. Squeamish Chekhov purists with no sense of humor may be a little dismayed at what’s become of their beloved source material. The rest of the island should take a chance at this innovative and unexpected charmer.

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