Jay O. Sanders and Yvonne Woods in "Uncle Vanya." Photo by Jim Cox
Misery loves company on the grounds of the Serebryakov country estate where ashen spinster Sonya Alexandrovna (Yvonne Woods) and her deeply disillusioned (with existence and with himself) Uncle Vanya (Jay O. Sanders) head a dour, mostly joyless household that operates on duty, humdrum decorum and little else. Visits by the local doctor, Astrov (Jesse Pennington) only add to the sense of ennui – and increase the consumption of vodka. It’s when Sonya’s father, Alexander Serebryakov (Jon DeVries) arrives with his comely young wife Elena (Celeste Arias) that the tenor of the environs shifts dramatically.
That’s Uncle Vanya, Chekhov’s quietly simmering (until the end of Act III of IV) dissection of life’s longings, impossible dreams and harsh realities, all of that manifested in the fate of the unfortunates who occupy the estate together for four months. The Globe staging in its Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre is a world premiere translation of Uncle Vanya by Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Nelson, the director. It’s also a production that plays both to the intimacy of the performance space and to the confidences and mostly muted confrontations between Chekhov’s characters. In a technique called microphone matrixing, the actors, rather than being mic’d individually, perform beneath low-hanging microphones. Audience members are given special headphones that will amplify the sounds from the stage, though they really aren’t necessary, the White Theatre acoustics being what they are.
Sanders’ title-role portrayal is a stalwart one and his Act 3 detonation startling and potent. The quiet strength of Sonya, too, is deftly conveyed by Woods, who among all those in this little realm that’s dark as a Russian night elicits compassion just as she gives it. Pennington, speaking in one soft register throughout, manages to make Astrov both likable and unlikable.
Uncle Vanya is ponderous, and its principals’ self-pity and blaming tiring over four tense but slowly unfolding acts. It will, however, reward the patience of those who stick with it, because its yearnings and its heartbreaks mirror life itself. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 2/21/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.