Russian forests crash down under the axe, billions of trees are dying, the habitations of animals and birds are layed waste, rivers grow shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes are disappearing forever…. Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.” (Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya)
I am not all that fond of Anton Chekhov, having worked on at least two slo-o-www productions of The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull. I think The Cherry Orchard was the first show I did in college, and I was the props person. In plays that center around domestic life on Russian estates, that means A LOT of props.
I appreciate the language and the symbolism and the messages of Chekhov, but I usually find productions leave a lot to be desired. Last night, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I still think it was completely depressing, but the production itself was excellent. Perhaps the main difference came from seeing it done with professional, age appropriate actors, instead of college students. I also enjoyed the artistic premise which had the small audience (limited to 30 for the purposes of this production) moving from room to room in the old theater building (1906) as we follow the story of people struggling to survive and find happiness in their fading country estate. In an article for the Boston Globe, John Kuntz, who gives an amazing performance in the title role said:
“We start in the biggest room, and as we work our way through the play, the rooms start getting close, until in the last act we’re all sort of intimately together in this room that’s pretty small,’’ says John Kuntz, who stars as Vanya. “I kind of like that idea, that sense of people being trapped on this estate.’’
They successfully brought us into the intimacy, the tension, and the sadness of this particular estate. Actually, my only complaint was that Act I and Act II (of this four act play) didn’t have a button at the end to indicate to the audience that the act was over. Instead, the house manager jumped up and said, “OK, that was the end . . . follow me to the next location,” or something to that effect. I found that to be jarring, by not enabling the audience to applaud or stay in the moment that we had been invited to so intimately.
Meanwhile, the play was full of words, as Chekhov’s plays usually are. This time, however, I found myself pondering the meaning and how they relate or don’t relate to our times. The above quote really hit home with me, as I reflect on the complete destruction humankind has wrought on the environment. Other things, struck me as well, particularly Uncle Vanya’s despair that his life was over at 47, where he had no hope of changing or finding any purpose. (I told you it was depressing). It made me think about how different the world is now. While I, at 43, struggle with what kind of changes I would like in my life, and how to live fully and completely, Vanya really had no hope for the future, and his niece, Sonya, had even less because she was “plain” (although I found the actress pretty) and would never find a husband, particularly not the man she loved.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
All in all, it was delightful night at the theater, where I got to
- celebrate my talented husband
- eat a delicious meal beforehand
- ponder the meaning of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness
- think about the choices we have and the choices we cannot make
- and leave with a decadent, Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar that Nathan bought at concessions.
I chose to eat that for breakfast this morning. Probably not the wisest choice of my life, but boy did it taste good. I will, eventually, counteract it with something healthy and full of fiber, but once in a while, especially after watching a production filled with despair, it seems important to celebrate with a little bit of chocolate. Don’t you?