“Remember that one Thanksgiving when your nearest and dearest sat down for a quiet game of Monopoly, but then your grandma got drunk and revealed a rich tradition of inbreeding? Well, tonight should be something like that…except with a lot more vodka.”
So begins a night at Three Day Hangover (TDH)’s production of Drunkle Vanya, an immersive, boozy update of the similarly named (albeit less alcohol-infused) work by renowned Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Adapted and directed by TDH’s Lori Walter Hudson, this Vanya literally revels in upending notions of the traditional Chekhovian vie d’château, spinning it on its own head by juxtaposing early 20th-century charms against the more modern quirks of early 21st-century life. There’s the performance space itself: Russian Samovar’s second-floor Tolstoy’s Lounge, which boasts shelves of leather-bound literature; actual samovars scattered about to various corners of the room; and, of course, a fully decked bar stocked with copious amounts of their special house-infused vodka.
For members of the audience, many of whom rest upon antique chaise longues and armchairs, seating is determined according to one of the four social classes of their choosing: the Imperial Family (which includes a lavish feast, premier seating and open-bar access); the Aristocracy (an assortment of delicacies, vodka and so-called “fancy-ass” VIP seats); the Bourgeoisie (shot of vodka, a pirogi and family-room seating); and, finally, the Proletariat (a shot of vodka, general admission and “a sense that your place in society is destined to rise,” naturally).
Yes, it certainly looks and feels like Russia at first glance—but just as one settles in, things start to get interestingly subversive.
For the night, the lounge is turned into the stately mansion of the Voynitsky-Serebryakov clan—and the audience, their unwitting guests. It’s Family Game Night and, as stated above by the fun-loving, titular Vanya, this family certainly loves to put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Indeed, as Vanya goes on to say: “My family loves to play games”—and so they do, as each character becomes further entwined in games of the heart. Professor Aleksandr Serebryakov, previously wed to Vanya’s late sister and daughter Sonya’s mother, is now very much in love with his new bride, the young and beautiful Yelena. He brings her to the family estate (which Vanya and Sonya have devoted much of their lives maintaining), and their arrival sets off a chain reaction of complications. For one thing, Vanya is in love with Yelena, who does not return his affections but instead finds herself falling for Astrov, a country doctor whom Sonya secretly adores.
A complicated evening of “quality family time,” indeed; but as far as these games are concerned, it’s not just the family who get in on it. The audience gets its fair share of the action as well. Throughout the evening, as character after character dips into soliloquies divulging their deepest desires, each of them comes across a blank in the dialogue. This is where the audience steps in and literally fills in the blanks, taking phrases and names from sticker tags given upon entrance to the lounge. It’s Cards Against Humanity, with a Russian twist, where the “winning” phrase is given a free shot of vodka by each character. Other shenanigans include various characters getting “iced” —a reference to a popular viral challenge wherein a bottle (or two, or three…) of Smirnoff Ice is either hidden surreptitiously or presented to someone in a clever manner. Whomever finds it or is presented with it is then prompted to chug it down as fast as possible while down on one knee. Consider it a Chekhov’s Gun of sorts—if a little alcohol-drenched.
It’s these anachronistic details which give Vanya its modern flair, and much of it is due to Hudson’s own stamp on the classic. Aside from the onstage antics, Hudson’s updated dialogue includes modern-age quips. (A choice line: “I tried to sleep but I just ended up online. Stephen Hawking was doing was doing an Ask Me Anything on Reddit. Man, does he type slow.”) The cast also do their part, inserting their own bits of self-referential dialogue (the character Sonya at one point mentions the jazz pianist downstairs underscoring their every step), all the while buoying the overall rhythm of the play.
For a play which boasts the subtitle “A Drinking Play for Horrible People,” Drunkle Vanya serves as a unique immersive experience, making for one thoroughly entertaining night out. Shocking discoveries and confessions are made, but at least there’s alcohol to wash down the bitter aftertaste.
Three Day Hangover’s Drunkle Vanya plays at Russian Samovar’s Tolstoy Lounge (256 West 52nd St.) through April 15. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (no performance Feb. 16). There are a full bar and small plates of Russian delicacies available throughout the performance. Attendees may customize their experience by choosing a class—Imperial Family (open bar, fine food); Aristocracy (infused vodka, fine food); Bourgeoisie (shot and a nibble); or Proletariat (you get a shot). For ticket information, call (866) 811-4111, or visit www.drunklevanya.com.