Chicago Reader

Best of Chicago Performing Arts
Uncle Vanya

Best Local Production in the Last Year: TUTA's Uncle Vanya

Vojkan Radonjic

Best Local Production in the Last Year

The Reader’s Choice: TUTA’s Uncle Vanya

Theater devotees know the swoon—that rapturous transport when every element of a production coalesces (or, more often, when the acting and direction is so persuasive that the cheap set and crappy costumes fade into irrelevance) and something true about the human soul is revealed. About a dozen shows in 2008 gave me the swoon, among them Profiles Theatre’s nerve-racking In a Dark, Dark House, Building Stage’s crafty Dracula, Goat Island’s wistful The Lastmaker, and Factory Theater’s ludicrous Ren Faire. But few shows I’ve ever seen have sent me into a deeper swoon than TUTA’s Uncle Vanya.

Founded by the Serbian husband-and-wife team of Natasha and Zeljko Djukic, TUTA (an acronym for The Utopian Theatre Asylum) has been producing in Chicago since 2002. But they didn’t really distinguish themselves from the rest of the off-Loop crowd until their 2006 staging of Ugljesa Sajtinac’s Huddersfield, a Mike Leigh-esque portrait of disaffected post-Soviet Serbian youth. That exquisitely acted show—about a half-dozen twentysomethings wasting long, drunken days in a cramped apartment—featured all the in-your-face excess Chicago actors love. After TUTA’s equally excessive follow-up, Tracks, in 2007, it was hard to imagine this troupe handling Chekhov’s static masterpiece, in which a disgruntled group of friends and relations, stranded on a provincial estate, do almost nothing for three acts but nurse unrealistic romantic dreams and regret missed opportunities for making them come true. But director Zeljko Djukic assembled a near-perfect cast who found suspense, heartache, and absurdity in Uncle Vanya’s subtle orchestration of nonevents. Like European Repertory’s mesmerizing Ivanov from a decade ago, TUTA’s restrained, elegant production revealed how melancholy gnaws at the human heart. Arrow TUTA revives Uncle Vanya this spring. Opens Fri 5/22. Through 6/28: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 847-217-0691,, $25. —Justin Hayford

Our readers’ choice: Amelia Earhart Jungle Princess

Arrow By James Asmus, produced by the New Colony

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