Uncle Vanya and our current moment

Last night I went to a reading group I like, where we discussed Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya, first put on stage in 1899. After rereading it, I rewatched the great Vanya on 42nd Street, with Wallace Shawn and Julianne Moore (the movie has a wonderfully sly beginning, sliding us into the play without our quite realizing it).

It's a play about hopelessness, about an unproductive world in which changing your situation seems completely impossible--and also about the self-defeating personality those circumstances seem to engender. Astrov the idealistic doctor is dissolving himself slowly in alcohol and finds it impossible to make a real human connection. Vanya labors pointlessly for someone he once respected, but his labor is really to keep himself from taking any chances. Vanya's mother spends her time making notes on political pamphlets, as close to an obsessive commenter on blogs as the nineteenth century could get.

A modern restaging set in one of America's hollowing out areas would work perfectly. The frustrations, angers, and acceptance of a humble and undeserved fate would require little translation. Dr. Astrov's big interest is environmental destruction, the effects that destruction has on the human soul, which would also be spot on.