Uncle Vanya: Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts

By Anton Chekhov; Translated by Paul Schmidt

Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think.”
—Harold Clurman (quoting Jean de la Bruyère) on Uncle Vanya

“It is not about failure but about stamina,” critic Richard Gilman insisted in a 1973 essay on Chekhov’s tragicomedy, subtitled “Scenes from a Country Life in Four Acts.” Indeed, most Western attempts at the Russian master wrestle with issues of tone, trying to balance melancholia and humor, despair and hope, searching for a way to faithfully render the heartsick, elusive gossamer of Anton Chekhov’s all-too-human world.

On a country farm owned by the pompous, retired professor Alexánder Serebriakóv, Iván Petróvich (Vanya) languishes in a funk of dyspeptic self-loathing. Ványa has sacrificed his life to support Serebriakóv, and now finds himself sliding into middle-aged obsolescence. He lusts after the professor’s young, worldly wife, Yeléna; he carps and quarrels; he contemplates suicide. His friend, hard-drinking proto-environmentalist Doctor Ástrov, chides Vanya for his laziness, but the physician also feels curiously useless. When Serebriakóv unveils his plans to sell the farm, a lifetime of resentment explodes, provoking hilarity and hysteria.

Director Erica Schmidt—who has graced previous SummerScapes with her keen, rigorous productions of The Sorcerer and The Tender Land—stages the indelible tale of squandered dreams and tenacious survival. Schmidt’s modern-dress version will emphasize the grueling reality of the farm, the roughness and dilapidation of the environment in which the characters live. And, in the title role, film and stage actor Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Richard III at the Public Theater) will bring an added level of pathos to the Chekhovian laughter through tears.

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