This new translation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by local husband-and-wife team Sarah and Andrew Romanov retains all the existential Russian angst of the original but provides ample new colloquial territory for the formidable talents of the actors assembled by Common Ground Productions to adequately explore.In an inaugural production in the Artisan Theatre, a lovely venue in the heart of the burgeoning Del Paso “Uptown” district, Uncle Vanya is liberally sprinkled with humor, but that merely seasons the self-involved despair of the characters, including the eponymous estate manager, Vanya (Steve Mackenroth). Decades of family squabbles culminate during the visit of Vanya’s former brother-in-law, the Professor (Toby Lowder), complicated by the fact that both Vanya and his best friend Dr. Astrov (Jan Lindman) have fallen in love with the Professor’s young wife (Susan Fore). Further complicating the romantic dalliances, Sonya (Amber Durgin), the Professor’s daughter and Vanya’s niece, has long carried a torch for Astrov.
Then there’s the issue of money. What family hasn’t seen its share of trouble over that one?
But in addition to a heavy dose of family drama, the production also carries with it—perhaps thanks to the excellent new translation—something new. The play offers a meditation on the lack of foresight that so often destroys what might be, at the very least, a satisfied middle age. Dr. Astrov’s love of the natural world and work to preserve Russia’s rapidly disappearing forests has its own environmental equivalent today, and Lindman’s impassioned invocation of paradise disappearing resonates fully. What’s more, the surrender of the native beauty of the forest to the insatiable desires of the economy is mirrored in the moving performances of Durgin and Fore as young women who, however willingly, surrender their lives to the needs of others.
With such well-played and heavy emotions, it’s fortunate indeed that comfort food (including chocolate) was available during intermission at Café Refugio, which serves as a lobby for the theater. And it’s always a delight to welcome a new venue and a new production company to the theater scene, particularly when both offer such promise.