Uncle Vanya (Onkel Wanja)
by Anton Chekhov
German adaptation by Angela Schanelec, based on a translation by Arina Nestieva
Sonya and her Uncle Vanya receive visitors at the estate that they have managed with much self-sacrifice since the death of Sonya’s mother. Their hard work has been of great help to the deceased woman’s husband, a famous and venerated professor. Accompanied by his young wife, the professor has now come to the countryside for some relaxation. Here he gives his temperamental nature free reign, and rants and raves about the stupid country folk. Given the professor’s true character, as well as the seemingly unrequited love Uncle Vanya feels for the professor’s new wife and Sonya feels for the environmental activist Astrov, both Sonya and Vanya realize that they’ve wasted the last 25 years.
Anton Chekhov called his great plays comedies or dramas, and both descriptions are as telling as they are misleading; his works are all sad, yet funny. In Uncle Vanya Chekhov flatly refuses to provide answers. He simply presents us with scenes – as the play’s subtitle “Scenes from Country Life” indicates. Published in 1897, Uncle Vanya was a reworking of Chekhov’s earlier play The Wood Demon.
“I've often been blamed”, Chekhov says, “for writing about trifles, for not having any positive heroes.... But where am I to get them? […] In our youth, we all chirp rapturously like sparrows on a dung heap, but when we are forty, we are already old and begin to think about death. Fine heroes we are!”
In 2008 the DT production of Uncle Vanya was invited to Berlin’s Theatertreffen – a festival honouring the year’s best German-language productions. The critics’ poll in trade journal Theater Heute (Theatre Today) also hailed it as “Production of the Year 2008”. Constanze Becker was named Best Actress of 2008, while Ulrich Matthes and Jens Harzer shared the Best Actor award for their respective roles in Uncle Vanya.
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January 12, 2009