When retired Professor Serebryakov and his young wife Yelena return to his remote family estate, routine life is upended for his daughter Sonya and her Uncle Vanya, who have remained in the country to manage the farm for the Professor. Disillusioned lives, an uncertain future, and frustrated desires begin to overwhelm them, as Vanya and Astrov, the local doctor, fall under Yelena's spell, and Sonya, who for years has longed for Astrov in secret, finds herself in competition with Yelena.
Chekhov's life spanned tumultuous times in Russia, between the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Some critics consider his work prescient, illustrative of the failures of the landowning class—others see in it nostalgia for the Old Regime. It would be a mistake, however, to overemphasize the social content of his plays because of subsequent historical events. Chekhov was interested in depicting the world as it was, rather than interpreting or drawing moral lessons from it. 'One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely,' he wrote. 'My concern is to write, not to teach!' –Beatrice Bosco
In 1898, Chekhov was approached by the cofounders of the new Moscow Art Theatre, Constantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, who asked to produce his play The Seagull, which had its disastrous premiere at the Alexandrine Theatre two years earlier. The new production was a hit, beginning the artistic collaboration between Chekhov and the Moscow Art Theatre, a partnership that continuted the remainder of the playwright's life.
Uncle Vanya is a reworking of an earlier Chekhov play that opened in 1889 to dismal response. When the Maly Theatre (unrelated to the Maly Drama Theatre) prepared to perform the new play, it was viewed as too ambiguous by the Theatrical and Literary Committee, which required numerous cuts and edits to the script before an imperial theater, like the Maly Theatre, could present it. Chekhov withdrew the play and sent it to the Moscow Art Theatre, where it became a highlight of the Moscow season in 1899. Despite their joint successes, Chekhov was never pleased with the Moscow Art Theatre's productions of most of his plays. Stanislavsky's new acting style often overplayed the tragedy in scenes that Chekhov intended to be understated and even farcical.
The actors of St. Petersburg's Maly Drama Theatre have studied and worked together for decades under the direction of Lev Dodin, creating an unparalleled acting ensemble. Their subtle, finely observed production captures the longing and humor of this landmark Russian classic.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is one of the great writers of the modern period, famous and influential as a playwright and short story writer. Chekhov began writing while still a student in medical school, publishing humorous sketches and anecdotes to help support his family. Upon graduation, writing became his main interest and occupation, although he practiced medicine his entire life.
His early attempts at drama met with failure, but drew the attention of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Constantin Stanislavski, the directors of the Moscow Art Theatre. His work found a home there and helped lay the foundation for the international reputation of the Moscow Art Theatre and of Stanislavski, whose theories of acting emphasizing naturalism and ensemble, revolutionized twentieth-century theater.
Chekhov was instrumental in the development of modern drama. His contribution, so unique as to require the term "Chekhovian," includes an emphasis on the detailed actions of daily life and the importance of subtext—the characters' unspoken emotions and motivations. Resisting the sensationalism and melodrama of his contemporaries, his tone is mildly ironic, and combines immensely comic moments with despondency, loneliness and other dark elements of the human condition. Chekhov's characters surrender to life's disappointments but do not give into despair. They experience the pain of self-recognition, question the meaning of human existence but find solace, often in work.
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