"Uncle Vanya" by Anton Chekhov is a four act play set entirely on a Russian estate in the late 1800s. Vanya, his niece, Sonia(by his late sister) and his mother are the primary residents of the estate. The play begins after Vanya's brother in law, Alexander (husband of his deceased sister) and Alexander's new wife, Helena move to the estate. Their initial visit has turned into a permanant stay and the once dutiful life of the original inhabitants loses its direction. Vanya relinquishes all interest in his work and gains passionate interest in Helena. At the same time, he is dismayed and outraged by Alexander whom he once held in the highest esteem. Vanya fervently attempts to convince Helena to abandon her commitment to her husband and to run away with him. Alexander, on the other hand, spends his days loudly declaring he is unwell and demands the constant attention of the local doctor, Astrov. Astrov begins to neglect his regular duties including his environmental interest in the nation's forests. Sonia, frustrated with Vanya is also diverted by her own love interest in the good doctor. However, Sonia alone continues to work while her father, her Uncle and Astrov become less and less interested in all things save her father's wife.
The play is set prior to the Russian revolution when class stations were firmly in place. Alexander has been supported by Vanya's family for years under the false presumption that Alexander was a great man who would ultimately be recognized as prominant author. This hope spurned the family on to work dutifuly and productively. The characters reflect the Russian culture of the time. Vanya let go of his private aspirations and worked for the glory of the family whom he believed was being led by the superior Alexander. We meet Vanya angry, disillusioned and ready to rebel.
The play is written in four acts and has only eight characters. All acts take place on the country estate either in the garden or in the house. Though the play is short, the characters and themes are well developed. Each character struggles with their position in life, how they relate to one another and most importantly how their lives have purpose. After years of doing what he believed was right and bearing hardship and sacrifice Vanya faces the proposition that it was all for naught.
Uncle Vanya is very moving in a simple way. The strong theme of sacrifice and hope, work and reward held my attention as well as a few comic twists in the plot. Though Vanya has placed his dreams and his effort on the undeserving, in the end it is Sonia who sees clearly where faith should lie. And it is to her character we look for the message of hope.
Book Reviewed by Carole Weed
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