Monday, February 19, 2018

Globe’s “Uncle Vanya” A New Experience For An Old Classic.

If you are/were expecting a different outcome in The Old Globe’s new and updated translation/revival/reconception of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”, don’t hold your breath.

It still lumbers along with same characters all in their doomsday mindset, pretty much ending where they started, none the better, none the worse for it. What you will experience is the new journey that will ultimately take you to their predestined end.

The Globe’s commissioned world premiere translation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is currently playing on the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage through March 11th. In the directors chair guiding a most talented cast is Nelson, one of the translators. 

The experience begins even before entering the space. Each guest is handed a pair of headphones with a brief explanation on whether to use or not. Will Pickens' unusual sound design, in the theatre in the round, is evident from the start.

A cluster of microphones is suspended over the stage as close to the actors without distracting. Everything they say, every sound made is filtered through those michrophones into speakers that are picked up through the headsets.

I’ll call it sound sensitive or surround sound. It was a perfect match for my ears. It brought the actors into my world and visa versa. I had a feeling of intimacy and was very easy to follow the sounds and voices, as was Pickens’ expectation.

Chekhov’s ‘Vanya’ unfolds as his characters begin to build their common area or kitchen (Jason Ardizzone-West). It is in this setting that will ultimately become the hub in which all the conversation, or lack thereof take place, meals are served, arguments will begin and eventually end or be continued, and romance will be pushed to the limits but never fulfilled.
L to R Jesse Pennington, Celeste Arias, Yvonne Woods, Jay O. Sanders, Roberta Maxwell
 Chekhov’s characters are all lonely, pathetic souls dying of boredom from the sameness and frustrations trapped by their meager existence, melancholy and frustration. They come and go as they have for years following a routine that will soon shake them to their senses, as change is about to come.

Vanya’s niece Sónya (Yvonne Woods), and his mother, Márya (Roberta Maxwell) live on the country estate run by Vanya (Jay O. Sanders) and Sonya, and owned by Vanya’s brother -in -law Alexander Serebryakov (Jon De Vires) an ageing, ailing, self-centered, professor who lives off the sweat of Vanya and Sonya’s labor.

He and his very young, twenty seven year old wife Eléna (Celeste Arias), who will catch the eyes of both Vanya and Astrov, have come back to the estate after running out of funds to remain living in the city. Everything in the orderly household is turned topsy -turvy to accommodate the old man’s whims and Vanya has about had it.
Celeste Arias and Jon DeVries
Eléna is bored and Sónya is exhausted, Márya still idolizes the professor and Sónya’s nanny and now household servant Marìna (Kate Kearney-Patch) still waits on the family.

Into the mix their old friend and long distance neighbor, local doctor and conservationist Astrov (Jesse Pennington) is at the estate to treat Serebryakov’s gout.

Over the course of many visits he falls goggle- eyed over
Eléna much to the chagrin Sónya who has loved him from afar almost all her adult life, and Vanya who tries to get her attention as well, but it falls on deaf ears.

More than anything Vanya, who supported his brother –in- law while living on meager wages for himself and Sónya now considers Serebryakov a charlatan. He demands to know why the old man has returned to the country estate miles from anywhere.
Jay O. Sanders and Yvonne Wood
When Serebryakov finally announces that he wans to sell the estate and live on the monies, Vanya makes it perfectly clear his idea is out of the question. 

Over the years yours truly has seen more than one production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”. This memorable production will stand out for several reasons not he least of which is the accessibility of the translation, the impeccable sound design and the clarity and definitive movements and directness of bringing the characters to life.   
Jesse Pennington and Jay O. Sanders
Hovering over the family, Jay O. Sanders is a larger than life Vanya. The strength of his character builds in proportion to the severity of his emotions, all at once frustrated and angry at the notion that Serebryakov is willing to sell the estate and the devil may care, to exploding and sending a half filled glass of water sailing out into the audience and then purring at the sight of Eléna.
Celeste Arias with Jay O. Sanders
Celeste Arias’ Eléna is perfect as the childlike and spoiled wife of a finicky and pernickety old man out of touch with anything outside his own creature comforts. Her boredom shows through with her every day concentration on a small bouquet of flowers she arranges to the sly looks and invitation of Astrov’s yearnings.

Jesse Pennington’s Astrov, another conflicted and brooding eccentric vacillating between his love of nature and the land, and his scorn for the human race (“ I’ve aged! And the life here is boring, stupid, squalid…It sucks you in. You are surrounded by misfits.”) is attractive enough to merit the attentions of both Eléna and Sónya but disappointed with his own emptiness and loss.

Pennington’s Astrov is at once a chameleon; charming and attractive, almost childlike in his collection of maps showing the changing landscapes of the countryside, and on a turn smug in his desires for Eléna.  His arrogance toward Sónya speaks to an ignorance that’s difficult to go unnoticed.
Cast of  Globe's "Uncle Vanya" 
Yvonne Woods’ Sónya is a paradigm in the study of goodness. While Vanya may be the head of the household, quite and gentle Sónya is the force that holds the family together. With soft words, never once addressed to her, her simple, kind and always pleasant approach to all matters controversial and disruptive is to keep the peace.

John DeVries Serebryakov disrupts the peace that once was abundant on his estate. He detests being there and if he’s miserable, why not make the rest of the family so as well? DeVries is more than convincing as the pompous professor without any clothes. 

Roberta Maxwell and Kate Kearney-Patch as Vanya’s mother and Sónya’s nanny bring some semblance and routine to the overall picture. Both are seasoned actors and give the production a certain class above and beyond the sameness of the other’s frailties.

Dressed in Susan Hilferty and Mark Koss’ simple costumes and keeping the lights on full focus, Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design serves the production well. And to reiterate, Pickens’ sound design is one to savor.

Hats off to Nelson and his entire crew. This is one ‘Vanya’ you will not want to miss. Two thumbs up!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 11th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox

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