Everything old is new again. So the saying goes. The New American Theatre’s production of Anton Checkov’s Uncle Vanya is a prime example of this. The play, written in 1898, touches on such timely themes as environmentalism and the #MeToo movement and the production, ably directed by Culver City’s own Jack Stehlin, shows how relevant this play is to today.
The action takes place on the country estate of Alexander Serebryakov (David Purdham), who arrives with his much younger wife Yelena Andreevna (Jade Sealey), throwing the lives of his daughter Sonya (Eve Danzeisen) and brother-in-law, the titular Uncle Vanya (Don Harvey), who have been working to keep the estate going, into chaos. Vanya and local doctor/environmentalist Mikhael Astrov (Brian Henderson) are both taken with the beauty Yelena, who struggles to stay faithful to her husband, while Sonya pines for the good doctor. Things come to a head when Alexander decides to sell the estate to finance his and Yelena’s life in the city, threatening to destroy the lives of Sonya, Vanya, and the others in the community.
The cast is across the board fantastic. Harvey as Vanya compellingly coveys his desperation both to escape the life he is living and to win Yelena’s heart. The passion Henderson brings to the role as Astrov highlights the character’s love of the increasingly diminished forestlands of his home as well as his feelings for Yelena. Danzeisen and Sealey shrewdly bring out the proto-feminism of Yelena and Sonya, both wishing for more control over their life while struggling with being the object (or not) of lust for the male characters. Purdham’s Alexander moves from anguish to bluster to arrogance deftly. The cast is rounded out by the wonderful April Adams, Michael Matthys, Janellen Steinnger, and Iulia Brezeanu as the servants and other denizens of the country estate.
The charm of the production is very much helped by the coziness of the small space. Clare Scarpulla’s functional and evocative set invites the audience in, and Florence Kemper Bunzel’s costumes are both simple and elegant, befitting the status of the characters in the play. Ryan Dohner’s lighting design and Christopher Moscatiello’s sound design serve to enhance the action on stage.
People keep producing old plays – Shakespeare, Aristophanes, Chekov – because what made them compelling, thought provoking experiences hundreds or thousands of years ago makes them compelling, thought provoking experiences now.
Uncle Vanya, at the New American Theatre, 1312 N. Wilton Place, Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays @ 8. Through Dec. 7 (310) 424-2980 newamericantheatre.com
Photo Credit – NAT / Cast with director Stehlin