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Three Day Hangover Puts the Drunk in Drunkle Vanya

Anton Chekhov's play gets the Drunk Shakespeare treatment in a new production at Tolstoy's Lounge.

Amanda Sykes as Yelena and Leah Walsh as Sonya in Drunkle Vanya at Tolstoy's Lounge.
(© Lloyd Mulvey)

Next door to the magical, mystical home of Broadway's Cats, and across the street from the soon-to-shutter Jersey Boys is the Russian Samovar, a New York City eatery and bar known for its chicken Kiev and infused vodkas. Up a tiny dimly lit staircase is Tolstoy's Lounge, a more intimate setting where, several nights a week, a production of that iconic Russian classic Uncle Vanya is performed.

But this is a bar. So make that Drunkle Vanya.

Anton Chekhov's masterpiece with a twist is performed by the company Three Day Hangover, best known as the masterminds behind the popular Drunk Shakespeare. Described as "New York's boozy theater company," Three Day Hangover's MO is to celebrate the classics while opening them up for contemporary audiences. All of their productions are performed in bars, allowing the audience to imbibe freely and, at times, even take part in the dramatic proceedings.

Drunkle Vanya, a 90-minute adaptation of Chekhov's play, written and directed by Lori Wolter Hudson, a member of Three Day Hangover company. "Vanya is my favorite Chekhov," she admits. "And I always thought 'Oh, I'll direct it when I'm ready to do my perfect production,' whatever that would be." It took some prodding from her Three Day Hangover colleagues, Beth Gardner and David Hudson, in order to convince her that Drunkle Vanya was, in fact, the perfect opportunity, and one that would allow the company to expand their reach beyond Shakespeare. "That's where it came from, saying, 'Well, I can do this version now and save that perfect production for later.'" Sure enough, the "perfect production" came along sooner than Hudson expected: "[Drunkle Vanya] turned into my dream project."

Josh Sauerman as Waffles, Christopher Tocco as Astrov, and Joel Rainwater as Vanya in Drunkle Vanya.
(© Lloyd Mulvey)

Hudson describes the show as an "engaging, interactive, unpretentious look at a really old Russian play with a lot of life still in it." Unearthing that life in a way that appeals to the masses is at the heart of this production.

And how do they do that? "I say it's Uncle Vanya with a drinking game layered on top of it," explains Joel Rainwater, who takes on the title role. "It is a full production of Uncle Vanya in a very real sense. A lot of the themes in the story and the heartbreak of that play are very much intact, but it's elevated with this drinking game that's surprisingly seamless in how it's woven into the rest of it." The drinking game, as it turns out, is the classic Cards Against Humanity, where "we turn the audience members into human playing cards."

What impresses most about Drunkle Vanya is how it manages to strike a balance between the emotional and the humorous. "Lori has done a razor-sharp cutting of the play [and added] super-smart inserts of contemporary materials and gags," notes Lost and Person of Interest star Michael Emerson, who, with wife Carrie Preston, are major supporters of the company. "It really delivers the goods of the Chekhov original. I find the show very moving, but the more antic way that they address it helps us see that they are, and were, comedies…[and] Chekhov called them comedies."

Rainwater agrees. "We want people to have fun and imbibe. Our hope is that we do a spoonful of sugar slip-and-reverse on people here. You're getting them engaged in this game with alcohol, and then, if we're doing our job well enough, people will find themselves caught up in the story of Uncle Vanya."

Carrie Preston and Michael Emerson (center) with the cast of Drunkle Vanya.
(© Lloyd Mulvey)