If this was your family, and you had to spend a hot summer in their company, you'd throw yourself under a train. (I know — wrong Russian literary icon.) But it's Chekhov's genius to make the characters of Vanya not only sympathetic, but entertaining. For nearly three hours, we're gripped by their every concern. We care what happens to everybody, and ride their waves of melancholy.
Vanya is also funny, though finding the right Chekhovian tragicomic balance is famously difficult. At Lantern Theater Co. much of it is performed for laughs, which pays some dividends early on, but ultimately the play's stature and emotional clout are blunted. Three key performances don't quite work. Peter DeLaurier (Vanya) is a charming actor, but here he undermines himself with vaudeville shtick straight out of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. Charlie DelMarcelle (Astrov) and Sarah Sanford (Yelena), also gifted actors, both adopt an offhand, sardonic delivery that is absolutely contemporary, and they don't find the necessary sexual chemistry. Sanford in particular is miscast — Yelena may be miserable, but she's meant to be throbbing with life force. Here she's as drab as everybody else. Director Kathryn MacMillan hasn't turned these disparate actors into a cohesive extended family (to be fair, another common problem in Chekhov productions)
In the plus column, there is stellar work from David Howey as a deliciously pompous Serebryakov. And Melissa Lynch is a sympathetic, lovely Sonya; due largely to her, the play's final moments have exactly the mix of sadness and radiance we've been waiting for.
Through Nov. 21, $28-$36, St. Stephen's Theater, 923 Ludlow St., 215-829-0395, lanterntheater.org.