Uncle Vanya
Konstantin Stanislavski as Astrov
in the Moscow Art Theatre production in 1899
Written byAnton Chekhov
Original languageRussian
SettingGarden of the Serebryakov family estate

Uncle Vanya (Russian: Дя́дя Ва́ня, tr. Dyádya Ványa, IPA: [ˈdʲædʲə ˈvanʲə]) is a play by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. It was first published in 1897, and first produced in 1899 by the Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Konstantin Stanislavski.

The play portrays the visit of an elderly professor and his glamorous, much younger second wife, Yelena, to the rural estate that supports their urban lifestyle. Two friends—Vanya, brother of the professor's late first wife, who has long managed the estate, and Astrov, the local doctor—both fall under Yelena's spell while bemoaning the ennui of their provincial existence. Sonya, the professor's daughter by his first wife, who has worked with Vanya to keep the estate going, suffers from her unrequited feelings for Astrov. Matters are brought to a crisis when the professor announces his intention to sell the estate, Vanya and Sonya's home, with a view to investing the proceeds to achieve a higher income for himself and his wife.

Background

Uncle Vanya is unique among Chekhov's major plays because it is essentially an extensive reworking of The Wood Demon, a play he published a decade earlier.[1] By elucidating the specific changes Chekhov made during the revision process—these include reducing the cast from almost two dozen down to nine, changing the climactic suicide of The Wood Demon into the famous failed homicide of Uncle Vanya, and altering the original happy ending into an ambiguous, less final resolution—critics such as Donald Rayfield, Richard Gilman, and Eric Bentley have sought to chart the development of Chekhov's dramaturgical method through the 1890s.

Rayfield cites recent scholarship suggesting Chekhov revised The Wood Demon during his trip to the island of Sakhalin, a prison colony in Eastern Russia, in 1891.

Characters

Plot

Act I

At Professor Serebryakov's country estate, Astrov and Marina discuss how old Astrov has grown and his boredom with life as a country doctor. Vanya enters and complains of the disruption caused by the visit of Serebryakov and his wife, Yelena. Serebryakov, Yelena, Sonya, and Telegin return from a walk. Out of earshot of Serebryakov, Vanya calls him "a learned old dried mackerel" and belittles his achievements. Vanya's mother, Maria Vasilyevna, who idolizes Serebryakov, objects. Vanya also praises Yelena's beauty, arguing that faithfulness to an old man like Serebryakov is an immoral waste of vitality.

Astrov is forced to depart to attend to a patient, after making a speech on the preservation of the forests, a subject he is passionate about. Vanya declares his love to an exasperated Yelena.

Act II

Several days later. Before going to bed, Serebryakov complains of pain and old age. Astrov arrives but the professor refuses to see him. After Serebryakov falls asleep, Yelena and Vanya talk. She speaks of the discord in the house, and Vanya speaks of dashed hopes. He feels that he has misspent his youth and he associates his unrequited love for Yelena with the disappointment of his life. Yelena refuses to listen. Vanya believed in Serebryakov's greatness and was happy to support Serebryakov's work; he has become disillusioned with the professor and his life feels empty. Astrov returns and the two talk. Sonya chides Vanya for his drinking, and points out that only work is truly fulfilling.

A storm starts and Astrov talks to Sonya about the house's suffocating atmosphere; he says Serebryakov is difficult, Vanya is a hypochondriac, and Yelena is charming but idle. Sonya begs Astrov to stop drinking, telling him it is unworthy of him. It becomes clear that Sonya is in love with him and that he is unaware of her feelings.

Astrov leaves; Yelena enters and makes peace with Sonya, after mutual antagonism. Yelena reassures Sonya that she had strong feelings for Serebryakov when she married him, though that has proved illusory. Yelena confesses her unhappiness, and Sonya eulogises Astrov. In a happy mood, Sonya goes to ask the professor if Yelena may play the piano. Sonya returns with his negative answer.

Act III

Uncle Vanya at the Moscow Art Theatre (1899), Act III

Vanya, Sonya, and Yelena have been called together by Serebryakov. Vanya urges Yelena, once again, to break free. Sonya complains to Yelena that she has loved Astrov for years but he doesn't notice her. Yelena volunteers to question Astrov and find out if he is in love with Sonya. Sonya is pleased, but wonders whether uncertainty is better than knowledge.

When Yelena asks Astrov about his feelings for Sonya, he says he has none, thinking that Yelena has brought up the subject of love to encourage him to confess his own feelings for her. Astrov kisses Yelena, and Vanya sees them. Upset, Yelena begs Vanya to use his influence to allow her and the professor to leave immediately. Yelena tells Sonya that Astrov doesn't love her.

Serebryakov proposes to solve the family's financial problems by selling the estate and investing the proceeds, which will bring in a significantly higher income (and, he hopes, leave enough over to buy a villa for himself and Yelena in Finland). Angrily, Vanya asks where he, Sonya, and his mother would live, protests that the estate rightly belongs to Sonya, and that Serebryakov has never appreciated his self-sacrifice in managing the property. Vanya begins to rage against the professor, blaming him for his own failures, wildly claiming that, without Serebryakov to hold him back, he could have been a second Schopenhauer or Dostoevsky. He cries out to his mother, but Maria insists that Vanya listen to the professor. Serebryakov insults Vanya, who storms out. Yelena begs to be taken away, and Sonya pleads with her father on Vanya's behalf. Serebryakov exits to confront Vanya further. A shot is heard from offstage and Serebryakov returns, chased by Vanya, wielding a pistol. He fires again at the professor, but misses. He throws the gun down in self-disgust.

Act IV

A few hours later, Marina and Telegin discuss the planned departure of Serebryakov and Yelena. Vanya and Astrov enter, Astrov saying that in this district only he and Vanya were "decent, cultured men" and that years of "narrow-minded life" have made them vulgar. Vanya has stolen a vial of Astrov's morphine, presumably to commit suicide; Sonya and Astrov beg him to return it, which he eventually does.

Yelena and Serebryakov bid farewell. When Yelena says goodbye to Astrov, she embraces him, and takes one of his pencils as a souvenir. Serebryakov and Vanya make their peace, agreeing all will be as it was before. Once the outsiders have departed, Sonya and Vanya settle accounts, Maria reads a pamphlet, and Marina knits. Vanya complains of the heaviness of his heart, and Sonya, in response, speaks of living, working, and the rewards of the afterlife: "And our life will grow peaceful, tender, sweet as a caress…. You've had no joy in your life; but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait…. We shall rest."

Productions

Scene from Act I, Moscow Art Theatre, 1899

Although the play had previous small runs in provincial theatres in 1898, its metropolitan première took place on 7 November [O.S. 26 October] 1899 at the Moscow Art Theatre. Constantin Stanislavski played the role of Astrov while Chekhov's future wife Olga Knipper played Yelena. The initial reviews were favorable but pointed to defects in both the play and the performances. As the staging and the acting improved over successive performances, and as "the public understood better its inner meaning and nuances of feeling", the reviews improved.[2] Uncle Vanya became a permanent fixture in the Moscow Art Theatre.

The play was adapted as the stage-play Dear Uncle by the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, who reset it in the 1930s Lake District. This adaptation premiered from July to September 2011 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.[3]

In January 2014 24/6: A Jewish Theater Company performed TuBishVanya, a modern adaptation that incorporated Jewish and environmental themes.[citation needed]

In 2023, an off-off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya performed in an unmarked Manhattan loft for an audience of 40. Directed by Jack Serio and using a translation by Paul Schmidt, the cast featured Will Brill as Astrov, Julia Chan as Yelena, David Cromer as Vanya, Will Dagger as Telegin, Marin Ireland as Sonya, Bill Irwin as Serebryakov (replaced by Thomas Jay Ryan), Virginia Wing as Marina, Ann McDonough as Maria, and Nathan Malin as Yefim.[4]

Among the actors who have played Uncle Vanya on Broadway are Ralph Richardson, Nicol Williamson, Tom Courtenay, and Derek Jacobi. In April 2024, a Broadway production of Uncle Vanya will be staged in the Lincoln Center Theatre by director Lila Neugebauer. The cast will include Steve Carell as Uncle Vanya, Allison Pill as Sonya, William Jackson Harper as Astrov, Alfred Molina as Alexander Serabryakov, Anika Noni Rose as Yelena, Jayne Houdyshell as Mama Voinitski, and Mia Katigbak as Marina.[5]

Other actors who have appeared in notable stage productions of Uncle Vanya include Michael Redgrave, Paul Scofield, Peter O'Toole, Albert Finney, Franchot Tone, Cate Blanchett, Peter Dinklage, Jacki Weaver, Antony Sher, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Simon Russell Beale, William Hurt, George C. Scott, Donald Sinden, Michael Gambon, Trevor Eve, and Laurence Olivier.

Parodies

"Are you Uncle Vanya?"
"I am."
[Gunshot sounds]
"Ouch!"

Other adaptations

Over the years, Uncle Vanya has been adapted for film several times.

Awards and nominations

Awards
Nominations

See also

References

  1. ^ Ryan McKittrick (2008). "Moscow's First Uncle Vanya: Checkhov and the Moscow Art Theatre". American Repertory Theatre. Archived from the original on 2008-06-19. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
  2. ^ Simmons, Ernest (1962). Chekhov, A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 486.
  3. ^ Alfred Hickling (2011-07-14). "Dear Uncle – review | Stage". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-11-25.
  4. ^ Marks, Peter (14 July 2023). "Review | In a busy New York summer, it's a Chekhov play that burns hottest". Washington Post.
  5. ^ "Steve Carell to Make Broadway Debut as Uncle Vanya Next Spring". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  6. ^ "The Fifth Elephant". terrypratchettbooks.com. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  7. ^ John Stoltenberg, "Review: Life Sucks at Theater J", DC Metro Theater Arts, 20 January 2015
  8. ^ "Uncle Vanya (Abridged)". Unveiling Vanya. Middlebury College Russian Department. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  9. ^ "On the Mainstage at Kennedy Theatre – the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa". www.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  10. ^ Ryan Senaga (2012-11-10). "Review: 'Uncle Vanya' an unexpected charmer". Honolulu Pulse. Retrieved 2013-05-01.
  11. ^ Quotes taken from the VHS recording issued by Arthur Cantor Films, New York.
  12. ^ "Home- Wiener Festwochen". www.festwochen.at.
  13. ^ "Filmed recording of West End Uncle Vanya with Richard Armitage and Toby Jones to be released in cinemas and broadcast on BBC". www.whatsonstage.com. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  14. ^ "Morbror Vanja - Åbo Svenska Teater". abosvenskateater.fi. Retrieved 2021-09-20.
  15. ^ Laman, Lisa (23 December 2021). "How 'Drive My Car' Uses a Classic Play to Illuminate Its Characters' Inner Lives". Collider. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  16. ^ Brzeski, Patrick (9 July 2021). "Japan's Ryusuke Hamaguchi on Adapting Murakami for 'Drive My Car' and Vehicles as Confession Booths". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 17 January 2022.

Further reading