Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
It was first published in 1897 and received its Moscow première in 1899.
The play portrays the visit of an elderly professor and his glamorous, much younger second wife, Yeléna, to the rural estate that supports their urban lifestyle - an estate from which they receive but take no part in maintaining.
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, meanwhile suffers from the awareness of her own lack of beauty and from her unrequited feelings for Dr. Astrov. Matters are brought to a crisis when the Professor announces his intention to sell the estate: Vanya and Sonya's home and raison d'être, with a view to investing the proceeds to achieve a higher income for himself and his wife.
The version we will be reading however is an adaptation by Brian Friel, who has been described as 'Ireland's greatest playwright' and an 'Irish Chekhov'. You may find the occasional word or expression that is unfamiliar - and it is possible that I will not be able to translate for you!
- Aleksandr Vladimirovich Serebryakov – a retired university professor, who has lived for years in the city on the earnings of his late first wife's rural estate, managed for him by Vanya and Sonya.
- Helena Andreyevna Serebryakov (Yelena) – Professor Serebryakov's young and beautiful second wife. She is 27 years old.
- Sofia Alexandrovna Serebryakov (Sonya) – Professor Serebryakov's daughter from his first marriage. She is of a marriageable age but is considered plain.
- Maria Vasilyevna Voynitsky – the widow of a privy councilor and mother of Vanya (and of Vanya's late sister, the Professor's first wife).
- Ivan Petrovich Voynitsky ("Uncle Vanya") – Maria's son and Sonya's uncle, the title character of the play. He is 47 years old.
- Mikhail Lvovich Astrov – a middle aged country doctor.
- Ilya Ilych Telegin (nicknamed "Waffles" for his pockmarked skin) – an impoverished landowner, who now lives on the estate as a dependent of the family.
- Marina Timofeevna – an old nurse.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
Chekhov practiced as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career: "Medicine is my lawful wife", he once said, "and literature is my mistress."
Chekhov renounced the theatre after the reception of The Seagull in 1896, but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and premiered his last two plays,Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a "theatre of mood" and a "submerged life in the text".
Chekhov had at first written stories only for financial gain, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story. He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.
Brian Friel (1929-2015)
Brian Friel was considered to be one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, and referred to as an "Irish Chekhov" and "the universally accented voice of Ireland".
Recognised for early works, Friel had 24 plays published in a more than half-century spanning career that culminated in his election to the position of Saoi of Aosdána (Head of the Irish Arts Foundation). His plays were commonly featured on Broadway and won many awards.