UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov

George Hartpence (center) as Vanya, Alexa Newton as Sonia & DeLarme Landes as Astrov - for the ActorsNET 2011 production

It is unclear exactly when Uncle Vanya was written, but it owes a debt of gratitude to The Wood Demon. This earlier work used the same settings and similar characters and some of its dialogue Chekhov imported into Uncle Vanya. Yet The Wood Demon is completely unambiguous: in Act 3 the Uncle Vanya character commits suicide and at the end of the play Sonya’s love for the Dr. Astrov character is requited.


Uncle Vanya was first published in a collection of his plays in 1897 and it is likely that it was written after The Seagull some time in 1896. The Moscow Art Theatre was eager to premiere the piece but Chekhov had promised it long ago to the Maly Theatre, Chekhov was keen to pacify the situation not wanting one theatre to lose out to another but saw no amicable resolution. The play’s fate was decided instead by the Theatrical and Literary Committee of the Emperor’s Court who controlled the programming of the Imperial Theatres, of which the Maly was one. They read the play, interviewed Chekhov and requested extensive revisions to the text.


With an easy conscience, Chekhov was now able to refuse changing the play and pass it to the Moscow Art Theatre. To placate the Maly, he offered to write a play especially for them but he failed to deliver on this promise.

ActorsNET (2011)

role: Vanya

produced by The ActorsNET of Bucks County

January 28 - February 13, 2011

directed by Cheryl Doyle

set design by George Hartpence

script adapted by ActorsNET

Villagers Theatre (2007)

role: Astrov

produced by The Villagers' Theatre

October 5 - 20, 2007

directed by Rob Pherson

script adaptation by Curt Columbus

UNCLE VANYA history

Images from the original production

“You must not think that when we met after the success of The Seagull there was anything affecting about the encounter. He shook my hand more firmly than usual, smiled pleasantly, and that was all. Chekhov was not in favor of expansive expression, whereas I felt a strong urge towards it since I had become his ardent admirer.”

Konstantin Stanislavsky, Co-founder of The Moscow Art Theater 

Moscow Art Theater

“The secret of Chekhovian mood is hidden in the rhythm of the language, and the actors of the Art Theatre heard just this rhythm during the days when they rehearsed the first Chekhov production. They heard it through their affection for the author . . .”

Vsevolod Meyerhold, Actor/Director

1899

“It seems to me that with Anton Pavlovich, everybody unwittingly felt an inner longing to be simpler, more truthful, to be more himself. More than once I saw how people cast off their motley attire of bookish phrases and fashionable expressions . . .”

Maxim Gorky, Author

UNCLE VANYA at ActorsNET (2011)

role: Voinitsky, Ivan Petrovitch ("Uncle Vanya")

by Anton Chekhov

produced by the ActorsNET

script adapted by ActorsNET

Director by Cheryl Doyle 

Assistant Director and Dramaturge - Carol Thompson

Set Design - George Hartpence

Stage Managers - Michael Krahel and Amanda Graf

Lighting Designer - Andrena Wishnie 


with

George Hartpence as Vanya

DeLarme Landes as Astrov

Alexa Newton as Sonya 

Cat Miller as Yelena

Mort Paterson as Serebryakov

featuring:

Elaine Good, David Bohn, Susan Blair & Michael Krahel

George Hartpence as Vanya & Alexa Newton as Sonya

SYNOPSIS


Uncle Vanya is set on a country estate some time towards the end of the 19th century. Aleksandr Serebryakov, a retired university professor, has moved there with his second wife, Yelena. For the past 25 years, the estate has been managed by Vanya, the brother of the professor’s deceased first wife, and the professor’s daughter, Sonya (Vanya’s niece), who has been living on the estate since her father’s remarriage. Out of respect for the professor’s position and learning, Vanya has willingly undertaken the management of the estate for a token annual salary. However, while the professor has been living with them, Vanya has become increasingly disillusioned; all he now sees is an old man afflicted with aches and pains, married to a beautiful and much younger wife—to whom Vanya himself would have proposed some years previously, but let the chance slip, to his regret. The professor now symbolizes for Vanya the waste of his own life.


As if in revenge, Vanya seeks to declare his love for Yelena at every possible opportunity, much to her irritation. Yelena has also attracted the attention of Dr. Astrov, a local landowner who is passionate about the environment, and dulls his impatience with Russian provincialism in alcohol. Astrov, who has been called in to look after the professor, spends much of his time at the estate, neglecting his medical duties to be in Yelena’s presence. Sonya has been in love with Astrov for the past six years, secretly and quietly. When she asks Yelena to speak to Astrov on her behalf, the doctor misinterprets, and declares his own feelings for Yelena. Astrov makes an attempt to embrace her, which is interrupted by Vanya.


As these entanglements unfold, the professor announces his decision to sell the estate, setting the characters off on a series of events that culminate in scenes of unexpected comedy and profound emotion, masterfully interwoven by Chekhov in one of his greatest plays.

George Hartpence as Vanya & Cat Miller as Yelena

“Chekhov lived only forty-four years, and during the last third of his life he was surely conscious of the likelihood of a premature death. Those of us who do not live under such a distinctly stated sentence of death cannot know what it is like. Chekhov’s masterpieces are always obliquely telling us.”
~Janet Malcolm, Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey (Random House, 2002)


“Came home dazed and soulscarred by your play, wrote you a long letter and tore it up. One cannot express fully and coherently the effect your play has on the soul, although I felt, as I watched its heroes, as though someone were sawing at me with a blunt-edged saw… For me Uncle Vanya is…a completely new form of dramatic art.”
~Maxim Gorki after seeing Uncle Vanya


 “Let the things that happen onstage be just as complex and yet just as simple as they are in life. For instance, people are having a meal at the table. Just having a meal. But at the same time their happiness is being smashed up.”
~Chekhov


Forests serve the climate, climate affects character, and so on and so forth. There can be no civilization or happiness if the forests crash down before the axe, if the climate is cruel and harsh and if people are the same…. The future is terrible!
~Chekhov, letter to A.S. Suvorin, 18 October 1888 

Chekhov's Gun

Chekhov's Gun advice to playwrights:

The name, Chekhov's Gun, comes from Anton Chekhov himself, who stated that any object introduced in a story must be used later on, else it ought not to feature in the first place:

"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."
Anton Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889.

"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."
From Gurlyand's Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No 28, 11 July, p. 521.’

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."
From S. Shchukin, Memoirs (1911)

An example in which Chekhov himself makes use of this principle is Uncle Vanya, in which a pistol is introduced early on as a seemingly irrelevant prop, and towards the end of the play becomes much more important as Uncle Vanya, in a rage, grabs it and tries to commit homicide.

Anton Chekhov - King of Comedy

"Such as kidder!" ~ Count Leo Tolstoy
Yelena arranging to meet Astrov in the forest, tomorrow, around two.


 "Chekhov was always extremely fond of everything comic, humorous; he liked listening to funny stories, and sitting in a corner, his head propped on his hand, pinching his beard, he would go off into such infectious laughter that I often left off listening to the story and enjoyed it second-hand through him.”
~Olga Knipper (his wife) on Chekhov

About the Playwright

(above : Anton Chekhov by Osip Braz, 1898)


Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in 1860 and raised in the seaside town of Taganrog, in southern Russia. He was the grandson of serfs who managed to buy themselves and their families out of slavery; his own family suffered financial hardship after his father, a merchant (and an authoritarian and religious fanatic) was declared bankrupt in 1876. Chekhov entered medical school in 1879, one year before he published his first short story, and graduated from Moscow University in 1884 with a medical degree. His patients, mostly peasants, were usually poor; he did not charge for his services and donated his time to work in famine and cholera relief. His early writings, humorous sketches including a weekly contribution to a magazine called Fragments, were published under pseudonyms and were initially more of a financial necessity than a chosen career; with these earnings he supported his family.


 While still in medical school, Chekhov began to write his earliest plays, including the work now known as Platonov (written 1881-82, discovered 1923); Ivanov (1887), which had a disastrous first production; and The Wood Demon (1889), another failure, which he later revised as Uncle Vanya. He also began to suffer the first symptoms of tuberculosis, which would later kill him. He began to achieve true literary success when he began writing serious literature in the late 1880s, and won the Pushkin Prize in 1888 for his short story collection In the Twilight. A master of short fiction who is considered the father of the modern short story, Chekhov wrote more than two hundred short stories during his lifetime.


 Chekhov is famously quoted for his statement, “narrative is my legal wife and drama a flamboyant, rowdy, impudent, exhausting mistress.” His play The Seagull, now acknowledged as a masterpiece, and the first of his five major plays, debuted in 1896, and was another failure. He did not find success as a dramatist until Konstantin Stanislavski founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898, and revived The Seagull in its first season to great acclaim. The Moscow Art Theatre went on to produce his most successful plays: Uncle Vanya in 1899, Three Sisters in 1901 and The Cherry Orchard in 1904.


 Chekhov lived the last five years of his life in Yalta, where he was sent (or exiled, as critic Janet Malcolm has written in her book Reading Chekhov) for its mild climate as his health worsened, and where he built a villa. There, he wrote Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. He died of tuberculosis, from which he had been suffering from an early age, at the health resort of Badenweiler in the Black Forest area of Germany, on July 2, 1904.


Chekhov’s death has become one of "the great set pieces of literary history", retold, embroidered, and fictionalized many times since, notably in the short story Errand by Raymond Carver. In 1908, Olga, his wife, wrote this account of her husband’s last moments:

 “Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe.

The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne.

Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: "It's a long time since I drank champagne."

He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child... 

UNCLE VANYA at Villagers Theatre (2007)

role: George Hartpence as Mikhail Luvovich Astrov

by Anton Chekhov

produced by  Tina Lee and Catherine Rowe Pherson at Villagers Theatre

script adapted by Chris Columbus

directed by Rob Pherson

Costumer - Catherine Rowe Pherson

Stage Manager - Jennifer Dzama

Lighting Designer - Paul Carver

Photographer - Rich Kowalski 

 

with

Rupert Hinton as Vanya

George Hartpence as Astrov

Christie Leigh Carver as Sonya 

Andrea Beth Petzko as Yelena

John P. Devennie as Serebryakov

Featuring:

Marie Fiorello, Fred Halperin, Carol Thompson & Rob Pherson

George Hartpence as Astrov & Christie Leigh Carver as Sonya

CRITICAL PRAISE:


October 10, 2007  

Stuart Duncan, critic for The Princeton Packet, says:

"Villagers’ director Rob Pherson read no less than eight translations of the play before deciding on one by a man named Curt Columbus. It’s a splendid choice; the verbiage is thoroughly accessible, none of those long, unpronounceable Russian names. In fact this is one of the very best revivals of Vanya that you will ever get an opportunity to see."

George Hartpence (left) as Astrov & Rupert Hinton (right) as Vanya

 CRITICAL PRAISE:


UPDATE: December 26, 2007

"Uncle Vanya" selected as one of the year's 12 best plays by Packet critic Stuart Duncan.

"Uncle Vanya at The Villagers. A perfect show for the Villagers’ Black Box staging, but apparently few people want Chekhov these days. Nevertheless it was the finest staging of a Russian play in many years in these parts. George Hartpence played the town doctor (Chekhov himself was a medical doctor and practiced) and Mr. Hartpence’s real-life wife played the unenviable role of the aged Marya. Rob Pherson directed and even stepped in as the servant. The evening was brisk and as much fun as Chekhov ever gets."

UNCLE VANYA Family Portrait

from left: rear - Fred Halperin, Rupert Hinton, George Hartpence, John P. Devennie

front - Marie Fiorello, Christie Leigh Carver, Andrea Petzko, Carol Thompson