UNCLE VANYA

Jean-Claude van Itallie's version in English of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya was first produced at LaMama Annex (Ellen Stewart, artistic director) in New York City in September, 1983, directed by Andrei Serban, set designed bySanto Loquasto, constructed by Jun Maeda.

 

The cast included Joseph Chaikin as Vanya, F. Murray Abraham as Astrov, and Dianne Venora as Yelena.

 

Later produced at the Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, and on Broadway, 1995, at The Circle in the Square Theatre, directed by Braham Murray, starring Tom Courteney.

FROM REVIEWS OF VAN ITALLIE’S TRANSLATION OF UNCLE VANYA

"The crispest and most powerful version extant." Robert Brustein, The New Republic.

"Intense and elliptical." Richard Schechner, Village Voice.

EXCERPT

YELENA : I haven't lived much in the country, but I've read about it.

ASTROV: I have a work table in this house, in Vanya’s room. When I'm completely worn out, numb -- I drop everything, run here and draw. It's my play time for an hour or two. Vanya and Sonya do their accounts. I doodle near them, quietly. It's warm and peaceful -- a cricket chirps in a corner. Not that I allow myself that pleasure often -- once a month maybe.

   (showing the map)

Now look, please. This is our district fifty years ago. The dark and light greens are forests, covering half the map. Where the green is striped with red -- elk and deer. Here, in the lakes -- swan, geese, and ducks. The old people say there were vast numbers of every kind of bird, clouds of them. Here are the retreats of the Old Believers, here water mills, here cattle, horses -- that's the blue. See, this corner is mostly blue -- there were herds of horses, at least three to a peasant.

   (pause)

Now here's the district twenty-five years ago. The forest covers only a third of the land. The deer are gone, there are still elk. The blue and green are paler. The third map -- down here -- is the district today. There's still some green, but only in spots. No more elk, swan or geese. There are no monasteries or mills left. This is a picture of destruction, which in ten or fifteen years will be complete. You could say the old must give way to the new. And I'd agree if forests were replaced by roads, railways, factories, and schools. Then maybe people would be richer, more educated. But in this district things don't change. We have swamps, mosquitoes, typhoid, diptheria, and misery. People lose the fight for survival here. Degraded by inertia and ignorance, starving, sick, and freezing -- in order to save their lives and their children, they clutch at whatever feeds or warms them. They destroy without a thought for the future. Everything is destroyed. Nothing is replaced.

      (coldly)

I have the impression this doesn't interest you.

YELENA : I know so little about it.

ASTROV: It's not a question of knowing about it. It doesn't interest you, that's all.

YELENA : To tell the truth, I was thinking about something else. Forgive me, but I must subject you to a little cross-examination. I don't know where to begin.

ASTROV: A cross-examination?

YELENA : Yes, a cross-examination. A harmless one. Let's sit...

It's to do with a certain young person. We'll talk as friends, openly -- and later we'll forget what was said. Agreed?

ASTROV: Agreed.

YELENA : It's about my stepdaughter, Sonya. Do you like her?

ASTROV: Yes, I admire her.

YELENA : Do you like her as a woman?

ASTROV (after a little silence): No.

YELENA: ...You've noticed nothing?

ASTROV: Nothing.

YELENA (taking his hand): I can read it in your eyes -- you don't love her. She's in pain. Please understand -- you have to stop coming here.

ASTROV: My time for all that is past. I-I'm too busy. I-I can't --

   (shrugging)

I-I don't have time.

   (He is obviously embarrassed.)

YELENA : Ouf! What an unpleasant conversation. I'm as worn out as if I'd been carrying stones. Well, it's over, thank God. We'll forget it. Nothing was said. But you'll have to go. You do understand? You're a sensitive man.

   (pause)

My face is burning. I must be turning red.

ASTROV: If you had said all that a month ago, I would have considered not coming anymore, but now --

   (He shrugs.)

Though, if she's in pain -- But I'm confused. What was your cross-examination really about?

(He looks her straight in the eye, shakes his finger at her.)

Sly, aren't you?

YELENA : What do you mean?

ASTROV (laughing): Sly. Sonya may be in pain, but how does your cross-examination help her?

   (stopping her from speaking, with agitation)

Now it's my turn to speak. Don't look so surprised. You know why I come here every day -- and for whom. Don't look so surprised. My lovely beast of prey, I've been around.

YELENA (stupefied): Beast of prey? I don't understand.

ASTROV: A pretty minx with soft pretty fur needs victims. For a month now I've done nothing, dropped everything, thought only of you, hungered for you -- and you're delighted. Is that why the cross-examination? Well, here I am -- vanquished.

   (He folds his arms on his chest, bows his head.)

I give up. Go ahead, devour me.

YELENA : You're completely crazy.

ASTROV (laughing bitterly): You're shy...

YELENA : I'm not who you think I am. I'm not that low. I swear I'm not.

   (She wants to go.)

ASTROV (blocking her way): I'll go, I won't come back, but --

   (He takes her hand, looks around quickly.)

Where shall we meet? Tell me. Hurry, someone might come.

   (with passion)

How splendid you are, how marvelous... Just one kiss... If I could just once kiss your perfumed hair...

YELENA : I swear to you --

ASTROV (stopping her from speaking): Why swear? No words. So beautiful. Such beautiful hands.

   (He kisses her hands.)

YELENA: No. Please go.

   (She pulls her hands back.)

You're mad, you're forgetting --

ASTROV: Tell me where we meet tomorrow.

   (He takes her by the waist.)

You know we will. We will meet.

(He kisses her. At that moment Vanya appears with a bouquet of roses. He stops at the door.)

YELENA (not seeing Vanya): Don't. Please. Leave me alone.

   (She leans her head on Astrov's chest.)

...........................................................................................................

Published in Chekhov, The Major Plays, van Itallie, Applause Books.

Acting edition: Dramatists Play Service.

2021©  Jean-Claude van Itallie—All rights reserved