‘Uncle Vanya’ opens at CMC

Will Grandbois
From left are members of the cast of “Uncle Vanya”: Joseph Gamble
Scot Gerdes |

Colorado Mountain College’s Sopris Theatre Company is tackling prominent Russian playwright Anton Chekhov this week with Brian Friel’s translation of “Uncle Vanya.”

“He’s the best of my best in my book, so it’s a very special opportunity for me,” said theater program director Gary Ketzenbarger. “Chekhov’s always about intricate relationships… There is that Russian passion and spiritual darkness.”

Directed by Brad Moore, the sadly funny drama features a cast of local favorites. Uncle Vanya, played by Joseph Gamble, and his niece Sonya, played by Olivia Savard, are hard-working and emotionally reined-in when their lives implode as visitors arrive to the country estate they manage. Vanya falls in love with his brother-in-law’s new, beautiful, young wife, and Sonya falls for a local doctor – though complications arise.

“Everybody’s talking to the wrong person, and there’s an inherent sadness to that that’s endemic to Chekhov,” Gamble observed. “Vanya is someone whose day has past him by. He never seized the opportunities that came to him. He’s greeted with that realization in the form of a young woman, and it’s really an epiphany and a realization that every day you’re one step closer to the grave.”

Gamble, a CMC photography professor, credits the allure of the author and the piece with getting him back into theatre.

“I had done a fair amount of acting and I had a desire to return to it,” he said. “This was the right play.”

It’s not without it’s challenges.

“There’s a danger of playing it as a melodrama,” Gamble explained. “The characters are not one dimensional. They’re incredibly complex. That’s why actors relish doing his plays.”

It’s also Olivia Savard’s first major role on the stage itself since middle school. Savard got involved in theatre at a young age and became a stage manager at Thunder River Theatre Company at 16. Happy behind the scenes, she had to be convince to audition for Chekhov, but doesn’t regret it.

“It’s thrilling. It’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever got myself into voluntarily,” she said. “The characters are all very relatable realistic. We’ve all been there. I think that’s why we keep bringing Chekhov back to the stage.”

The crew had some extra help with pronunciations from Olga Pavlova, a student from Kazakhstan. Longtime local thespian Chip Wells will also pull from experience under a Russian teacher in an advanced undergraduate course.

“We only did Chekhov,” she recalled.

Wells plays Marina, the nurse.

“Even though everyone she deals with is well beyond nannying, she’s still nannying,” she said. “There are more lost children in this play than you can count.”

Wells is far from the only familiar face in the performance, with Ketzenbarger and Sopris Theatre regulars Tom Cochran and Cassidy Willey playing key roles.

“After hearing so much about Chekhov and reading it, it’s fun to finally get my hands dirty,” said Willey. “You always have to be in the present moment and remind yourself that these characters are experiencing for the very first time.”

With the burden on the cast and crew to get Chekhov’s vision across, Willey doesn’t think it will make for difficult viewing.

“It’s not a hard piece for the audience to understand because we know these characters already,” she said. “The script is very approachable.”

Performances take place at 7 p.m. April 15-16 and 21-23, with 2 p.m. matinees on April 17 and 24 at the Spring Valley Campus’s New Space Theatre. Tickets are $18 for adults and $13 for students, seniors and CMC staff.

Call 947-8177 or email for more information.

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