Revisiting a favorite playwright.
By Shoshana Greenberg (lyricist/bookwriter)
If you have not seen Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya, go. Now (if you can). Balcony tickets at City Center are $25, and it's worth it. Even if you don't like Chekhov. Maybe even if you don't like theater. Just to see those actors, including the sublime Cate Blanchett, is a master class not just in acting but what art can be.
For me, seeing Uncle Vanya was not just about seeing a great production. It was about a return to my first favorite playwright: Anton Chekhov.
I fell in love with Chekhov when I was 15 and had to read The Cherry Orchard for high school summer reading. Like many future theater writers, I couldn't read just one play. I read the entire Chekhov play collection: Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.
I was hooked on the philosophical monologues and loved the characters who dreamed of going places but never seemed to get anywhere--I could totally relate as someone stuck in suburbia dreaming of living in the city.
I also saw many productions of Chekhov plays, from my first, The Three Sisters at Philadelphia's University of the Arts in 1998, to The Bridge Project's The Cherry Orchard in early 2009. But then I stopped. Until this week, I hadn't seen a Chekhov production in over three years, which may not seem like a big deal, but the best theater companies in New York City mount productions of Chekhov's plays all the time. You usually don't skip all the productions of your favorite playwright.
That is why I was so excited to see Uncle Vanya. Not only had I never seen a production of this particular play but I had missed Chekhov. It had been so long since I listened to characters philosophize about life and felt their motionlessness and ennui. As I walked into the theater and saw the dilapidated Russian country estate set, I felt as though I was returning to a part of myself I had put aside.
In high school, I was so worried that like the sisters in The Three Sisters, I would never get to Moscow, which for me was New York City. But I did get there, and starting now I'm making a commitment to seeing more Chekhov productions here. That's one of the reasons I left the ennui of suburbia, right? Thank you to the Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya for making me realize I need more Chekhov in my life.