I am not a Chekov fan. I think I may have seen too many Chekov plays in a short stretch of time, and I just grew tired of their sameness, the longing or yearning. So I went cold turkey. A recent outstanding production of Vanya. . . at the Cleveland Playhouse (http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/shows/2014/vanya-and-sonia-and-masha-and-spike) reminded me, with a gentle wink, what there is to cherish about Chekov. Vanya and Sonia, well, all of them have longings too, but unlike Chekov’s characters, the first three are able to see more than just despair. There is humor here – a knowing humor. (How many cherry trees does it take to make an orchard?) And a modern humor. This is a play that requires footnotes because of all of the allusions. Will they lines about Entourage 2 work in 10 years?
The first scene, featuring Vanya and his adopted sister, Sonia, is pitch perfect. It’s a master class of writing. And there is a monologue in the second act that, like some of E.M. Forester’s work, is a manifesto for connectedness and most certainly not a connectedness that requires electronic devices. Vanya, perhaps serving as Durang’s voice, longs for the human connection. Apparently, Durang initially wrote a much longer speech for Vanya here. Though he was probably wise to cut it, I would still love to see the original version and its evolution.
Durang writes his stage directions as suggestions. “It could be this. Or that.” The role of Cassandra is outstanding. Though Durang notes in his character descriptions that he didn’t have any particular race in mind, in both productions I’ve seen, the role was played by a black actress. I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but there’s one scene of hers in particular that I have a hard time imagining a white actress doing.
The play is funny and poignant on stage, and it reads that way, too.