UNCLE VANYA

DIRECTOR'S NOTES FOR Uncle Vanya by ANTON CHEKHOV translated by ALEX SZOGYI     (Produced at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, California, August 13, 1969.)      

IMPRESSIONS

There is a peculiar turbulence in the air, a constant nerv- ousness, everyone is impatient with the other, impatient with himself. There is self-contemplation which ends in annoyance with the other. "No exit." "I am dissatisfied with life like you, Uncle Vanya, and we are both growing peevish" . . . "I have no light in the dis- tance." Yet there's an underlying warmth, kissing. The intimacy of it all. Truly Christian. They all talk about what they want to do and always fail to do what they wish. Still there is a great reverence for life, a faith in life just as it is, though so terribly sad.

UNCLE VANYA

They all speak from the unconscious. . . . The deepest feel- ings are somehow entangled in the most nondescript, insignifi- cant remarks and things. The people are a queer lot-eccentric. This play cannot be acted through the lines. A skein of emotional impulses must be woven. A web of odd sentiments which have only the "logic" of feeling. Even the violence-the shooting-is ordinary!

Act One-The landscape, the outside "world." Act Two-Domestic (night). Act Three-Conference. Act Four-"Buried: the grave. 'Peace" and quiet! We shall endure.

The spine of the play: to make life better, find a way to be happy. They are not satisfied with life; therefore they are grum- blers- "I want to live, I want success," the Professor says. "How will we live through the winter..." (the years!) "I don't like this house; it's some kind of labyrinth . . . one can't find one's way in it... nobody can find anybody." "What do I do with myself? What do I do?" "Give me something to comfort me!" "If I could only live out the remaining years of my life in some new way. "They, those of the future, may perhaps find the way to be happy.

  VANYA

  Spine: to find some way-some positive way-to live through the suffocation of his life. A man of delicate sensibility. He is intelligent: a would-be artist of continental stamp. (He wears a "fancy tie"-"bohemian.") He's moral. Has a sense of justice. Self-observant. What, then, is his "weakness"? Self-sacrificing, overidealistic. He lacks aggressiveness, ego. No self-confidence. ("I'll shut up and say I'm sorry.") "I know my chances for a little reciprocation [from Yelena] are almost nil (Astrov does try to have an affair with her. Vanya defeats himselL) His idealism consists of too much con- sideration and regard for the other person. "Help me make peace with myself." Everything in him is tentative-he's never certain . . . he cannot push through. The symbolic (and actual) symbol of his defeat is the Pro- fessor who represents mediocrity in power, and selfishness. His tentativeness comes from too great an awareness of the other person's situation: "That may be . . . that may very well be... everything may just very well be." He drinks because "it makes you think you're alive. . . He still yearns to get on. Hence the violence and the ineffec- tuality of his most active gesture-the shooting. And the other effort: his attempt to woo Yelena. Yet he's shocked by pessimism: Yelena's thoughts about the world going to pot are "distasteful" to him. . . . He advises her to be adventurous, "jump in head first." When he has fired at the Professor he cries out, "What am I doing! What am I doing?" End: there's nothing left but to go on as before, "to work!"      

ASTROV  

  Spine: to do what he has to-despite everything. When called away-his visit interrupted-he says, "What can I do? I have to go." He accepts what Vanya isn't able to: he's more down-to- earth. He sees through his own contradictions. This makes him ironic. His perceptions are negative, his actions are posi- tive: he accepts life as it is.

UNCLE VANYA

He's an objective idealist, less abstract in his thinking than Vanya. He hopes for amelioration, even if only in two hun- dred years! "We'll have played some part in this." His soul is filled with pride when he sees a birch tree growing from the seed he planted. Then, dismisses it all with apparent cynicism. He has no hope for himself as an individual. "My personal life ... there's nothing good about it." "I work-and I keep getting beaten down by fate, but I don't stop." (This is the essence of his spine.) He doesn't love anyone (except the old Nurse) but he re- sponds to beauty and he suffers guilt at the death of a patient.

  YELENA  

  Spine: to obey and to justify her obedience-as the only thing she can do. (Her spine is weak in relation to the play's spine, almost negative.) She is shy... . She is the worst failure: she is beautiful, a po- tentially passionate woman. Yet she's repressed herself-she's not strong enough to act, to dare. Raised in gentility without courage. Everything is potential in her, nothing realized. She's languid because she doesn't hope to accomplish any- thing. She has given up. "Wait, in five or six years, I'll he old too." She can't stand scenes, ugly situations, violence. "Several times I've been on the verge of tears. . . ." She wants peace (quiet). Everything to be accepted without squabbling. She is an honest, good person, meaning no harm. When she speaks about Astrov she becomes lyric; we real- ize that she's a feeling person. She's not a bore, but eflaced. Once she's expressed herself, she has an impulse to play the piano, but because her husband says "no," she obeys and de- sists. Faced with Vanya or Astrov, she always tries to escape. - - All she is capable of, except for one kiss, is to take Astrov's pencil as a reminder!   SONYA   Spine: to serve everyone with love. She is constantly attentive to every little need of the people around her. She scolds and corrects those who behave foolishly or self- ishly: this, too, is service, for she hopes they may improve. A sturdy person, a worker. She is Open, intelligent, tender and smiling. Resolute withal, not just "nice." She's on to her father and treats him as he should be treated for his own and everyone~else's good. Yet she protects him from Vanya's hostility. She's happy when she can declare herself, when she can ex- press her feelings as with Astrov and later with Yelena. She cries with happiness when she's opened herself to someone in friendship or affection. She always wishes to hope, to live in hope.    

THE PROFESSOR  

Spine: to improve things for himself. He's unfortunate: he believes in his superiority, in the im- portance of being a professor, especially a professor of art . but he is not famous, he is unloved, he hasn't enough money, he is getting old and he has gout! So he insists on having everyone take care of him, serve him. He tries to preserve his superior attitude. Vanya is a nonentity to him, the doctor knows nothing, his wife is too young. He wants everyone to appreciate his cleverness: he acts like visiting royalty. But he's sure that he behaves with lar- gesse and that he harbors charitable feelings toward everyone. His manner of dress shows that he takes care of himself. Even his illness is more important than the ordinary per- son's complaint because Turgenev also suffered from it. He summons his family to a conference with regal imperi- ousness. His joke about the "Inspector General" is that of a superior being clowning before his inferiors.  

He can't face any real resistance. He retreats from a quar- rel. He's a coward in the face of life. He leaves as he came, not having learned anything-except that Vanya is impossible and that the others should work (which they do, while he only prates about it).  

  TELYEGIN ("WAFFLES")    

Spine: to keep himself attached to these people (the fam- ily). He's inspired by something other and more than mind-the guitar expresses him. He's sad and happy in his "uselessness." He knows the meaning of bliss . . . which is simply to be alive next to good people on the land and in the house his family owned. He upholds or exemplifies the old (basic) morality. He feels close to Marina, always sits beside her. This establishes his social position, his "throne." He doesn't think he's seen: he's inconspicuous. "If you deign to take notice, I have dinner with you every day." (But Sonya says, "Telyegin is our helper, our right hand.") He follows people like a little dog: the attachment of a faithful dog. He kisses Vanya when he sees Vanya's upset I can't stand it," he says when Vanya becomes violent through frus- tration. The Marina-Telyegin relationship is embodied in Act Four when they are winding the wool together. (His attachment.) "Hey you sponge." But said as an insult, it gives him "a bitter feeling." "Yes, my friend" to Astrov. Everyone is his friend, he's everyone's friend. Note the first stage direction: "Telyegin plays his guitar quietly."  

MARINA  

  Spine: to help everyone (including animals!) to live.  

The part must not be played stolidly. She has a sly humor, forbearance and saltiness. She's the "earth." She calls the Professor "my little fellow." She is tender with him, treats him like a child. All these~"children" have to be scolded sometimes, but above all, understood and loved. When Sonya is frightened and heartbroken she seeks com- fort in Marina. She uses the word "Christian." It means a good, well- ordered, decent way of life. "We're all sponges on God." She knows and appreciates that "all of you work hard." "May the Lord forgive us all" a?e her concluding words- as she keeps knitting a stocking.  

  MARIA (MAMAN)    

Spine: to side with learned authority: there is dignity and safety in that. She enters with a book. We see her last with a book. (I see her as thin, boney. A blue-stocking, old4ashioned Russian style. Wears a pince-nez with a ribbon.) Complacent amidst woe. She's satisfied, nothing touches her. A "liberal" pillar of society. Her essential character is expressed when she scolds Vanya, "Jean, don't contradict Alexander. Truly he knows better than we do what is right and what is wrong. A psychological gesture: she beats her hand on the arm of a chair in reproof of Vanya, "listen to Alexander." At the final curtain: "Maria writes notes in the margin" ofa book.  

  THE WORKMAN (THE DOWNTRODDEN)  

  Spine: to do (depressed but without complaint). There is a certain dignity in his deference to the doctor and the others....

 
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