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Steven Wright plays title role in Anton Chekhov’s ‘Vanya’

June 9, 2017 GMT

Rita Charleston Tribune Correspondent

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov has traditionally been perceived as an all-white “Masterpiece Theatre” kind of playwright. But striving to correct that perception, Quintessence Theatre is presenting a new version of “Uncle Vanya” through June 18, with African-American actor Steven Wright in the lead role of Vanya.

Making his Quintessence debut, Wright said he’s always loved Chekhov’s work. “I always thought he was one of the best. But when I was in college and I read the play, I remember closing the book, thinking how much I’d love to do it, knowing that would be impossible.”

But times change, and fortunately, Quintessence enjoys being part of that change. “That was many years ago that I thought I’d never get the chance to appear in this play, but Alex (Burns, the director) and I have long been searching for something to do together. And here it is!”

That being said, Wright insists no matter who is in the role, the play is still the play. “I think if Chekhov saw the play today he’d like it. Our whole goal is not about changing it but about honoring the work. But after all that, in a couple of days, we’re all just enjoying doing it.”

Vanya, the hero of the play, is a bitter, broken man who has wasted his whole life toiling on his brother-in-law’s estate. He is consumed with his lost life and obsessed with what might have been.

“That makes the show relevant today,” Wright said. “It’s about sacrifice and it’s about love. It’s about people and the sacrifices they make. It’s about this man who has sacrificed his own future for that of his family, and for 25 years lived like an ostrich not wanting to look at the truth. And there are people today that have made those same sacrifices instead of doing something for themselves.”

Wright, a Philadelphia native, is a graduate of Cheltenham High School where his theatrical ambitions first took root, and Franklin Pierce College where he graduated with a degree in Theater Arts. Over the years he’s appeared in many fine productions including “Othello” at Curio Theatre Company, “The Convert” at the Wilma Theatre, “Working” at Theatre Horizon, and others.

“The next project I do will depend on the play and the people involved in it,” Wright explains. “I like doing a wide variety of things because I am an actor, and the idea of me not being able to do a role because it was written for a ‘white person’ doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

“I did study. I did put my best foot forward. So although there may be challenges in any role, I’m willing to walk up to them and conquer them. So I just have to keep on pushing.”

For times and ticket information call (215) 987-4450.