Considering that playwright Anton Chekhov wrote UNCLE VANYA at the end of the nineteenth century, he managed to touch upon some very timely topics. The issues of displacement, infidelity, urban vs. rural values, plundering of natural resources, and figuring out where we belong in our world resonate with contemporary audiences as powerfully as they did with Russian audiences of the 1890’s. In addition, as noted by New American Theatre director Jack Stehlin: “Chekhov was essentially an optimist, writing through his characters that life has value and encouraging us to have hope and the courage to fight against our worst inclinations in order to save ourselves and our planet.”
Uncle Vanya (Don Harvey) has been managing his brother-in-law’s estate for years and sending any profits to the big city so that widowed Alexander (David Purdham), an absentee landlord, can live in comfort with his new and very young wife Yelena (Jade Sealey). Together with Sonya (Eve Danzeisen), Alexander’s daughter by his first wife, Uncle Vanya has worked industriously to keep the family estate in the black. But change is in the wind when urban professor Alexander and his nubile wife decide to pay the residents of their country estate a visit.
As the urbanites descend on the Russian countryside, life will never be the same – or will it? In a blink, the village physician Mikhael Astrov (Brian Henderson) and even Vanya find themselves enamored of the charming Yelena. Doubly unfortunate because of Sonya’s romantic but unrequited longing for the good doctor. Meanwhile, the sophisticated Yelena is torn between loyalty and an impulsive desire to spread her youthful and very attractive wings. When Alexander suggests that he is considering selling the estate, the fur will certainly fly.
Director Jack Stehlin does a superb job of bringing the Russian countryside of old to vivid life. The talented cast – with special kudos to Don Harvey (Vanya) and Brian Henderson (Astrov) – cause the dividing line between the stage and the audience to just about disappear. Suddenly, the audience is inside the drama looking out. Tragic and comic intermingle and coalesce as the tale progresses.
Clare Scarpulla’s scenic design is simple yet effective, with Ryan Dohner’s lighting and Christopher Moscatiello’s sound unobtrusively adding to the story. The entire production team does an effective job in a very small but somehow also very intimate space. And let’s not forget Florence Kemper Bunzel’s costumes, which succeed in bringing the 1800’s into the 2020’s back yard. UNCLE VANYA has probably been performed thousands of times – and yet the current production offers something special: a sense of intimacy and shared thoughts which result in bringing the hopes of dreams of a group of Russians who lived over 200 years ago to vibrant, compelling, and intense life. This is a show which shouldn’t be missed.
UNCLE VANYA runs through February 8, 2020, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The New American Theatre is located at 1312 N. Wilton Place, Hollywood, CA 90028. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 310-424-2980 or go online.