This structurally and psychologically compact drama takes place on an estate in 19th-century Russia, exploring the complex interrelationships between a retired professor, his second wife, and the daughter and brother-in-law from his first marriage. Interwoven themes of weakness, delusion, and despair are balanced by an underlying message of courage and hope.
Dr. Astrov's resounding support for the forest resounded with me, whose family has lived in New England since 1661, and who grew up summers in Maine on 40 acres of field and forest, the nearest inhabited farm a mile away. Astrov might appall modern pretend conservationists paid to manage forests but who sell off the oak to create better hunting. (Even Brazilians who strip rainforest don't pretend they're land protectionists.)
Amazing how telling, how contemporary, land issues here and in the Cherry Orchard are. Of course, land was always a plague in Russia: anybody might own huge property, and not be rich. Wealth required owning the peasants to work tracts, мужики. Gogol's Chichikov discovers a tax loophole which can make him appear rich (thus marriageable), by buying dead people still on the lists. Amusing throughout. Hilarious when one sentimental landowner ironically named Bitch-son, собакевич, refuses to sell his former carriage-repairmen (?).
I suppose trees are the modern tax-roll "souls": valuable when dead, as pretend conservationists know.
This play struck me as having a lot going on even through it is mostly talk rather than action. Vanya (Ivan) has been caring for his niece Sonia's estate after his sister died; now, his (former?) brother-in-law & his second wife Helena are visiting. Helena exerts a disruptive influence on all the male characters which irresistably reminded me of Helen of Troy.
I was struck by how modern some of the ideas expressed were. One example of this is the doctor's ideas about forests - his thoughts about deforestation and climate could have been spoken by someone today. I hadn't realized that these ideas existed in the late 1800s when Chekhov wrote this play!
I think that perhaps Chekhov may be an acquired taste and I am not truly there yet. And though I enjoyed this play I got lost within the characters at times.
In a world full of whining and complaining about insignificant things it's fun to admire Chekhov and his ability to make this seem imperative to human life. While in the setting of Russian gentry everything is falling apart and the lives of the characters are no more gratifying than anyone the lives of anyone else.