Friday, May 13, 2011



Elena and Sonya

This weekend there is a rare opportunity to see Chekhov's great play,  Uncle Vanya, in Russian, with English translation, in a major production by Andrei Konchalovsky. 

Moscow State Mossovet Theater presents
by Anton Chekhov
Produced by Andrei Konchalovsky


Saturday, May 14 at 7 PM
Sunday, May 15 at 2 PM & 7 PM
$150, $125, $100, $85, $75, $65

Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers Street, New York

For tickets --
Call: 212-220-1460

Note (5/14): Some tips and comments -- mixed up together -- after seeing the show...

-- The production is visually sharp; the stage setting makes sense (a big compliment). The interpretation and staging is original. Everyone seems to be real, and really reacting to each other.

-- Please leave enough time to get there. The nearest garage -- if you're driving -- is one long, long block north on Harrison Street. There's a long walk to the theater even from a cab in front. People were arriving late... even up to the intermission at the end of the second act. And other people were going to the bathrooms in the middle. Once you get there, stay put.

-- Turn your cellphone off. Cell phones were going off throughout the performance.

-- If you need translation, you must pick up a receiver near the snack bar in the theater. Check that it works! Mine did not!

-- Careful on the stairs. The staggered stairs are easy to trip on.

-- One strange feature of the production was videos of noisy cars on the back black curtain wall. You could hardly see them, they made a racket, and I have no idea why they were there.

-- There is no free program. You have to buy a program for $5 $10 or $15 dollars.

-- All in all, even though I understood at most 5% of the words -- I did understand the words, "Дядя Ваня," every time, and not a lot else -- I enjoyed the show, and I got a feeling for how the Russian actors interpreted the language of Chekhov.

-- My least favorite casting was Vanya: he was cast and portrayed as sort of a flake from the beginning; but I see him as a rock that has disintegrated because of his situation.

-- My favorite performance was Sonya (Julia Vysotskaya... who is actually, in fact, the producer's wife. Her performance was intelligent, emotional, and many-colored.)

"Andrei Konchalovsky's production commemorates two important events in the world of literature: 150 years since the birth of Anton Chekhov and 105 since his death. «Uncle Vanya» is, without a doubt, one of Chekhov's most brilliant plays: elaborate and expressive, full of intertwining psychologies and explosive humor. Fruitless longings, infinite desperation and futile lives. In a highly detailed manner, the author uncovers the inner worlds of a group of characters in the 19th century, who spend a few days together in a secluded, lifeless estate."

-- Maria Vasilevna Voinitskaya, matriarch, mother, grandmother: Irina Kartasheva
Uncle Vanya
-- Ivan Petrovich Vointsky, Maria’s son: Pavel Derevyanko
–- Vanya’s niece, Maria’s granddaughter: Julia Vysotskaya
-- Alexander Vladimirovich Serebryakov, Sonya’s father, a retired professor: Alexander Filippenko
-- Elena Andreevna, his young, pretty second wife, Sonya’s stepmother: Natalia Vdovina
-- Mikhail Lvovich Astrov, doctor: Alexander Domogarov
-- Ilya Ilich Telegin, impoverished landowner: Alexander Bobrovsky
-- Nanny: Larisa Kuznetsova

The Cast of Characters

Written by Anton Chekhov
Producer Andrei Konchalovsky
Stage-director Rustam Khamdamov
Composer Eduard Artemiev

Uncle Vanya is a gentle play with fierce emotions. It takes place over a few days (in Russia, around 1895) at the country home of Sonya and her uncle, Vanya, during a visit by Sonya’s father, the Professor Serebryakov, and his young and beautiful wife, Elena, a former student who married him after his first wife, Sonya’s mother, died.

Sonya’s grandmother (also Vanya’s mother), Maria, idolizes her son-in-law Serebryakov.

Astrov, an intelligent country doctor who is frustrated with his life, has a crush on Elena.

Elena has a bit of a crush on Astrov (who is eligible, free, not old, intelligent...) but is tending diligently to her aging husband.

Sonya, who believes she is plain, has a big crush on Astrov.

Serebryakov is something of an invalid, something of a bully, and possibly either a great scholar (according to Maria) or a phony who has never achieved anything (according to Vanya).

Vanya is deeply frustrated by his life; the estate is just barely getting by; he is spending all his time working and not enough doing anything he considers important; he regrets deeply never having made an attempt to woo Elena when she was young and available; and he is very jealous of Serebryakov.

Astrov and Elena

Vanya and Serebryakov

The play is about each character’s desires and frustrations rubbing against all the other characters’ desires and frustrations in this small isolated location. The play comes to a head when Serebryakov proposes to sell the estate to raise money for his retirement.

Anton Chekhov is widely considered one of the most important playwrights in history. In his plays (and there are only four or five major plays, with some other short, comic plays and early versions of other plays), Chekhov introduced the drama, often amusing, in which ordinary people are depicted living out their lives of love and frustration, with the inevitability of aging and the march of history and change forcing their lives.

Chekhov’s first three major plays, Ivanov, The Seagull, and Uncle Vanya take place in a relatively static and rural world. Later plays, Three Sisters, in a town filled with military men, and The Cherry Orchard, in which we see the rise of a new rich class, and the appearance of disgruntled students, seem to herald the world of the 1900’s, with major changes coming to Russia just a decade or so after these plays were written.

In Uncle Vanya, in the attempt by Serebryakov to acquire the wealth of the estate, we see the appearance of a major theme that becomes more assertive in The Three Sisters and in The Cherry Orchard, the acquisition by outsiders of power over the lives of the older, formerly stable, generation. Serebryakov does not succeed in taking over the estate. In The Three Sisters, the new wife grabs more and more power. And the wealthy outsider, of course, takes over the cherry orchard.

Love, and how and where it is – or is not – requited, and ambition and how it usually is not fulfilled, is a major theme in all the plays.

The power of great plays lies in their details, in the richness of the characters personalities, in the strength of the story, in the explicit language, in the subtext of the language, and in the behavior of the characters.

To fully appreciate a great play, one should see it in its original language, with actors that understand the subtleties of the language and the behavior of the characters, rooted in their national identity.

I appreciated the importance of seeing a play in its native language when I once saw a production of Three Sisters in Russian, and when I saw a production of Media in ancient Greek. Translations allowed me to follow the story, but the sound of the language carried additional meaning which translation could never convey, and which could be understood without translation.

This weekend there is a rare opportunity to see Uncle Vanya in Russian, with English translation, in a major production by Andrei Konchalovsky. Konchalovsky is a very important Russian writer/director/producer, who has worked on films and theater in the US as well as Russia.

"Andrei Konchalovsky is one of the few Russian directors who, along with such figures as Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexander Sokurov and Nikita Mikhalkov (Konchalovsky’s younger brother), are well known in Europe and America.

Konchalovsky began his career as a musician then, having graduated from the Institute of Cinematography, became a director and screenwriter – first as a co-author of scripts by Tarkovsky, later as the director of many of his own pictures.

His films that were shot in the U.S.S.R. – “First Teacher,” “Uncle Vanya,” and “Sibiriade” – gained recognition at festivals in Venice, Cannes, San-Sebastian, Toronto and San-Francisco. Later he worked in America, where he made such famous films as “Runaway Train,” “Tango & Cash” and others.

After the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Konchalovsky returned to a new Russia but continued working in the West. His TV miniseries of “The Odyssey” and “The Lion in Winter” received nominations and won prizes in the “Emmy” and “Golden Globe” competitions.

In addition to the cinema Konchalovsky successfully works in theatre and opera. He has staged productions in Paris, Warsaw, Moscow – at the Grand-Opera, the Metropolitan, Covent-Garden, La Scala and the Mariinsky Theatre. His production of the opera “War and Peace” was nominated for the Lawrence Olivier Best Foreign Production.

In the 1970s Konchalovsky turned to Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” for the first time and made a film that became a world classic among cinematic Chekhov adaptations. Woody Allen once called this picture the best film version he had seen in his life.

When someone asks me why I chose “Uncle Vanya” or how Chekhov is relevant today,” says Konchalovsky, “I sorrowfully think that soon journalists will be asking Riccardo Muti how Mozart is relevant or why Gergiev has chosen to conduct Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony. Chekhov is a symphony. A symphony of life; Of a life without tragic events, vast achievements or heart-felt impulses, of a life void of Heroes. As Chekhov said himself, ‘a simple, dull, philistine life.’ Man is not able to stare at the moon waiting for it to set behind the horizon. Man is incapable of looking at a tree and noticing how it is slowly turning yellow. Neither are we capable of looking intently at life and seeing how it inevitable ends in death. Nevertheless we still know that the moon sets, that trees turn yellow and shed their leaves; that life eventually comes to an end. As an artist, Chekhov had the unique ability, like no other in the history of art, to look at life long and hard. Chekhov was, in fact, the creator of that same contemporary drama that replaced 19th-century Romantic tragedies. It's easy to love talented heroes that haven't been knocked down by tragedy or by life itself. But it's hard to love the regular average man, who is unable to perform heroic deeds. Yet these are exactly the kind of people Chekhov loves, because he knows that they too will die. He expressed his understanding of art in a very clear way: ‘While people eat their lunch and drink their tea on stage, their life is slowly crumbling around them.’”

In the quote above, Konchalovsky's view of Chekhov & Uncle Vanya is quite a bit darker than mine. It will be interesting to see how that is expressed in this production






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