NEW YORK (AP) -- Suffering in the 19th-century summertime in the sultry Russian countryside. Yes, "Uncle Vanya" is back, and as good as ever.
Director Austin Pendleton has enlivened a satisfactory, humor-garnished banquet of tragic Chekovian themes in the Classic Stage Company's new production: pointless hard work, despair, people struggling at cross-purposes, negative epiphanies of wasted lives replete with unrequited longing. Carol Rocamora's translation modernizes the language while retaining the period eloquence.
Denis O'Hare's Vanya smolders with impotent, increasing rage as he realizes his lifetime's hard work of supporting his self-absorbed, academic brother-in-law has been wasted. The once-admired Professor Serebryakov has retired with his young trophy bride to the family's country house, disrupting the daily routine at which Vanya and the professor's daughter, Sonya, have toiled all their lives.
Belatedly, Vanya realizes that the professor, played with humorous pomposity by George Morfogen, is not, after all, a great scholar. Vanya cannot contain his bitterness at 25 wasted years. His self-pitying rants to anyone who will listen, including the professor's lovely and much younger trophy bride, Yelena Andreevna (Maggie Gyllenhaal), only increase his anger and regret.
Gyllenhaal expresses the unhappy, rueful Yelena's boredom physically, restlessly roaming the stage and frequently drooping over any available furniture. Exuding lassitude, her eyes haunted with misery, she's clearly exasperated with those around her, especially the clownish Vanya, who tries to win her heart with his often petulant humor.
Peter Sarsgaard is beguiling and boyishly charming as the imperfect, hardworking, alcoholic doctor and family friend, Mikhail Astrov. Astrov's clear-eyed concern over vanishing wildlife and trees contrasts sharply with the blind folly of his pursuit of Yelena and his insensitive treatment of Sonya.
Among this mostly miserable group, Mamie Gummer's delightful Sonya stands out as a hummingbird of repressed energy and lovesick inner turmoil, longing for Astrov's smallest attention. Her still-youthful hope that he will someday notice her flutters throughout the production with Gummer's every yearning glance, clenched fist and subtle facial expressions.
Suzy Benzinger's costuming enhances the stifling, overheated atmosphere of this doomed household.
Santo Loquasto's claustrophobic, rustic country house and partial garden, skillfully lighted by Jason Lyons, are sliced by iron pillars that loom like prison bars, evocative of the self-imprisonment of each character.
"Uncle Vanya" plays through March 8.
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