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THEATER BEAT

'Sonnyville': A Passionate Adaptation

October 21, 1994|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

From the moment we enter the Lex Theatre, redolent of incense and twinkling with fairy lights strung in the trees of Garman Noah's wonderfully ramshackle set, we are seduced into a desultory daydream that is alternately turbulent and torpid, gently humorous and rantingly melodramatic. We are in "Sonnyville," the Actors Conservatory Ensemble's loose adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," updated and set in a failing Mendocino winery.

The writer and director of the piece, Mark Haining, who recently directed both "Uncle Vanya" and "The Three Sisters" at ACE, knows his way around Chekhov, circuitously speaking.

Like Chekhov's, Haining's characters drift in a purposeless void, yet their every action is informed by an undercurrent of throbbing sensuality that vitalizes them. A melange of eccentrics, the characters range from unreconstructed hippies to visionary New Agers to modern-day philistines. Eventually, the sexual crosscurrents among them reach flood stage.

Haining's rambling, self-indulgent adaptation is risky, but his actors, himself included, are so committed to the work that they mostly pull it off. Keenly nostalgic, the play is reminiscent of students huddled about a dorm room ranting about life and the universe until the wee hours. Although we may lose our way in the discourse, we admire the passion behind it.

* "Sonnyville," Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $15. (213) 463-6244. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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