The Kaye Theater, Hunter College
East 68th St. between Lexington & Park Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 18, $37 ($15 for students)
Tony- and Obie-winning playwright Richard Nelson gives Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya the Apple and Gabriel family treatment in the inaugural production from Gregory Mosher’s Hunter Theater Project, which has been extended several times at the Kaye Theater at Hunter College, now running through November 18. In such plays as That Hopey Changey Thing and Sweet and Sad about the Apples and Hungry and Women of a Certain Age about the Gabriels, writer-director Nelson tells family stories often centered around important events, taking place in the kitchen as everyone comes together to eat. This new adaptation of Chekhov’s 1898 play, translated by Nelson with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is set in the kitchen of the Serebryakóv country estate. As the audience enters the small theater, where they sit on all four sides, chairs and tables are piled at the center of Jason Ardizzone-West’s intimate set. The characters enter and, before speaking, arrange the room; it’s almost as if we’re sitting with them as food is served and the plot unfolds. Ványa (Jay O. Sanders), who manages the estate, is preparing for the visit of elderly professor Alexánder Serebryakóv (Jon DeVries) and his much younger wife, Eléna (Celeste Arias). A soft-spoken man, Ványa has feelings for Eléna, as does Mikhaíl Ástrov (Jesse Pennington), a local doctor. Sónya Alexándrovna (Yvonne Woods), the professor’s daughter by a previous marriage, assists Ványa; she is interested in the doctor, who is taken with Eléna. The household is run by Sónya’s former nanny, Marína (Kate Kearney-Patch), who is watched over by Sónya’s grandmother, Márya (Alice Cannon), Ványa’s mother. They calmly discuss life and beauty, love and happiness as well as finances, which are not in good shape. And then it all explodes.
Shakespeare in the Park regular Sanders (The Sinner, Unexplored Interior), one of New York’s finest character actors and who played Richard Apple and George Gabriel in Nelson’s family plays, is a hulking, heartfelt, forthright, and decidedly American Vanya in this tender production; a bear of a man, he gently waits for his moment to erupt in a classic role previously played by such British royalty as Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Nicol Williamson, Tom Courtenay, Derek Jacobi, and Anthony Hopkins. And when he does finally let it out, his fury is something we can all identify with, the rage and anger we keep buried inside, desperate to release. Woods (Goodnight Children Everywhere, Franny’s Way) portrays Sónya with a haunting sadness, while Arias, who played Masha in Jaclyn Backhaus’s The Three Seagulls, or MASHAMASHAMASHA!, is a sweet-natured Eléna, who is not looking to stir up gossip or hurt anyone. The translation is direct and straightforward, streamlined to 110 minutes without intermission. Time and place are not essential here; Nelson instead focuses on the characters and the relationships, keeping it all right on point. With Uncle Vanya, the egalitarian Hunter Theater Project has gotten off to quite a start: There are no membership programs or VIP access; all tickets are $15 for students and $37 for everyone else. And don’t be misled by the affiliation with the college; the project is a fully professional venture, with students working the front of the house and ushering.