Review: Listening to ‘Uncle Vanya’ With Virgin Ears

Review: Listening to ‘Uncle Vanya’ With Virgin Ears

The cast members file on in contemporary work clothes (Susan Hilferty and Mark Koss did the costumes), to arrange these discrete pieces, accessorizing them with dishes and foodstuffs. As in the Apple and Gabriel plays, food is an anchor, grounding abstract and fanciful talk in the reality of subsistence.

The performers are creating the environment for the lives to be lived here, which makes the characters feel quite literally like the architects of their own destinies. Not that this is how they regard themselves.

Not Vanya, the steward of his late sister’s estate (played with defiant, abject rawness by a brilliant Mr. Sanders); or his niece and fellow manager, Sonya (Yvonne Woods, pinched with care); or her imperious father, Alexander Serebryakov (an elegant, fatuous Mr. DeVries), an aging professor in residence with his new, beautiful young wife, Elena (Celeste Arias, giving a traditionally glamorous part a homespun naïveté).

These people — who are visited by a dashing, but increasingly weary country doctor, Mikhail Astrov (a quietly sexy and damningly perceptive Jesse Pennington) — tend to speak of themselves as helpless, passive beings, pushed into place by circumstance and more extreme personalities. Don’t believe them.

What emerges so clearly here — as they snipe, quarrel, make up and haplessly pursue love affairs that are never going to happen — is that they’ve all made their own beds, for reasons of convenience or for quixotic ideals that don’t look so fine anymore. (On the other hand, Astrov’s worries about the forests his country is destroying sound newly relevant.)

They may all see themselves as misfits, to use a word that Mr. Nelson has said was central to his approach to this adaptation. But feeling like a misfit turns out to make no one special; it is the universal human condition.

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