Anton Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya" was done by the Pasadena Playhouse in June. (Pasadena Playhouse)

Arts and Entertainment

Review: ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Pasadena Playhouse

In the Pasadena Playhouse production of “Uncle Vanya,” I could see the time each actor put into every emotion and action from their characters.
<a href="" target="_self">Jolie Wang</a>

Jolie Wang

October 14, 2022
Uncle Vanya,” a story about family, romance, riches, home and the power and jealousies that come with it, was written in the late 1800s by Russian playwright Anton Checkov. I had the privilege to watch this play at the Pasadena Playhouse in June.

A retired professor owns a country estate that his daughter Sonya and brother-in-law Uncle Vanya run. When he visits the estate with his beautiful and young new wife Yelena, both Uncle Vanya and the local Doctor fall in love with her, creating a complex web of emotions and drama. 

While watching the play, I could clearly see the relationships that each actor thoughtfully crafted for their character. I could see the time they put into every emotion, action, and reaction from their characters. I was also able to learn about the challenges each character goes through. For instance, I noticed that Uncle Vanya started to spruce himself up a little more every time he came in to do a scene, until his breakdown at the dining table after he witnesses Yelena and the Doctor kiss. 

Uncle Vanya’s breakdown at the end of the play was truly remarkable. He has an intense scene at the dining table, with the rest of the family, where he convulses with his anger towards the Professor for taking everything for granted, towards Yelena for kissing the Doctor, and towards himself, for staying and working at the estate for so many years without recognition. The actor, Hugo Armstrong, was in such a fury for this scene that his face was painted with red and rage. Armstrong was so convincing that it looked like he was going to throw the dining chair into the audience.

The commitment the actors had to getting to know their characters and bringing them to life was palpable. 

Despite all these amazing performances throughout the show, there were still a few scenes that came to me as a surprise. For instance, I never saw the buildup in tension in the relationship between the Doctor and Yelena. Yelena has asked the Doctor if he had feelings for Sonya, and on his reply, they embraced in a kiss. Their kiss seemed so sudden, as if it was only in the play to serve as Vanya’s “last straw”, the impetus for him to blow up on his family.

After watching the show, I had the privilege to talk to a few of the cast members. It was delightful to hear about the acting journeys of both Hugo Armstrong (Uncle Vanya) and Sabina Zúñiga Varela (Sonja). I could tell that both actors had much dedication to their craft, even with the constant rejections and turn-aways from auditions. 

Armstrong even mentioned that he did not originally audition for Vanya, instead he auditioned for the doctor. It was not until after the persistence of the casting team that he decided to audition for Vanya. He thought that he was too big to play Vanya, so after a night-long of online bootlegs of “Uncle Vanya,” he found a production with a “big” Vanya. This showed and inspired Armstrong that he definitely could play Vanya, and all he needed to do was to trust himself and audition.

Overall, the cast and the crew made the show incredibly beautiful and fluid through their ample talent and sheer determination to bring the story alive.

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