Vanya on 42nd Street

The Slavic studies department held a screening of Vanya on 42nd Street today (with ice cream!). Vanya on 42nd Street is essentially a movie-fication of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya: instead of just reading the lines, however, it’s framed as the a bunch of actors rehearsing Uncle Vanya. You’ll see them take a water break, banter a little, view stagehands move a couch and fill a pitcher, and whoop, back into Chekhovian dialogue they go.

I initially went for the ice cream, but OMG: the film was so enlightening. Using my Fryean (not Freudian–I mean the literary modes, by Northrop Frye) criticism skills beaten into me in the junior year of high school, the play was set clearly in the ironic mode. Usually it means that the protagonist is an ordinary person, unable to self-actualize because he is his own worst enemy. But in this play, in my analysis, almost every “aristocratic” character is ironic–only the silly bumpkins seem to be happy.

I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have been inspired/affected an eighth as much if I were just reading the text. The actors had expressive, precise faces that showed their characters’ layers of emotion–one woman, Yelena, gets smilier and cacklier the more anguished she is: Yelena is the beautiful woman (who happens to be bored out of her mind…think Daisy Buchanan), but turns hideous when she cries in self-loathing.

Ok: enough of my childish analysis. Quotations! Quotations of places where Chekhov must’ve been videotaping my life (and listening to my internal narration!)

    SONIA. It is time to forget that. [A pause] Tell me, doctor, if I had a friend or a younger sister, and if you knew that she, well–loved you, what would you do?

    ASTROFF. [Shrugging his shoulders] I don’t know. I don’t think I should do anything. I should make her understand that I could not return her love–however, my mind is not bothered about those things now. I must start at once if I am ever to get off. Good-bye, my dear girl. At this rate we shall stand here talking till morning. [He shakes hands with her] I shall go out through the sitting-room, because I am afraid your uncle might detain me. [He goes out.]

    SONIA. [Alone] Not a word! His heart and soul are still locked from me, and yet for some reason I am strangely happy. I wonder why? [She laughs with pleasure] I told him that he was well-bred and handsome and that his voice was sweet. Was that a mistake? I can still feel his voice vibrating in the air; it caresses me. [Wringing her hands] Oh! how terrible it is to be plain! I am plain, I know it. As I came out of church last Sunday I overheard a woman say, “She is a dear, noble girl, but what a pity she is so plain!” So plain!

    It is the consequence of the ignorance and unconsciousness of starving, shivering, sick humanity that, to save its children, instinctively snatches at everything that can warm it and still its hunger. So it destroys everything it can lay its hands on, without a thought for the morrow.

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