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Bard SummerScape Produces Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" with Erica Schmidt's New Staging and Peter Dinklage in the Title Role, July 9-20
CHEKHOV’S RUEFUL COMEDY HEADLINES BARD’S THEATER PRODUCTIONS DURING SUMMERSCAPE’S EXPLORATION OF “PROKOFIEV AND HIS WORLD,” WHICH FEATURES WORKS BY THE GREAT RUSSIAN COMPOSER, HIS INFLUENCES, AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES IN THE ARTS – INCLUDING EISENSTEIN, THE GERSHWINS, RACHMANINOFF, RAVEL, SHOSTAKOVICH, STRAVINSKY, AND MANY MORE
“Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think.”
- Harold Clurman on Uncle Vanya, after Jean de la Bruyère
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – Bard SummerScape 2008 presents a new production of Anton Chekhov’s timeless, bittersweet comedy Uncle Vanya, with Peter Dinklage as Vanya. Director Erica Schmidt’s keen, rigorous productions have graced two previous SummerScapes (Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer in 2007 and Aaron Copland’s opera The Tender Land in 2006). She returns to Bard to direct Chekhov’s melancholy 1899 play – with her talented husband in the title role – in Theater Two of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry and celebrated since its opening as a major architectural landmark. The production features sets by Mark Wendland, costumes by Michelle R. Phillips, and lighting by David Weiner, and will be performed in an English translation by Paul Schmidt (who is not related to the director). Uncle Vanya opens Friday, July 11 at 8 pm, after previews on July 9 and 10. Additional performances are on July 12 and 13 and July 16-20.
Film audiences know Peter Dinklage for his award-winning, breakthrough performance in the deeply-affecting feature The Station Agent (2003). Bard’s production of Uncle Vanya is his first major New York stage showcase since Richard III at the Public Theater in 2004. Born with achondroplasia, which causes dwarfism, Dinklage has repeatedly captured audience and media attention with his committed performances, charisma, and wit. Time Out New York gave him the sobriquet “short, dark, and handsome,” and the Village Voice called him “an actor of force and fervor [,]… small in height but tall in acting stature.” Dinklage plays the part of Trumpkin in this year’s blockbuster film The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya
American theatrical authority Richard Gilman wrote in a 1973 essay that Uncle Vanya was “not about failure but about stamina.” Many Western productions attempt to balance its melancholia with humor and its despair with hope, while trying to put across the heartsick, elusive gossamer of Chekhov’s all-too-human world. But Erica Schmidt’s staging of the ageless tale of squandered dreams and tenacious survival emphasizes the grueling reality of the farm, and the roughness and dilapidation of the environment in which the characters live. To that end, she has set Uncle Vanya in the present, in modern dress.
Asked recently to discuss her approach to the author and the staging, Ms. Schmidt says:
Chekhov is my favorite writer. If I could, I would only do Chekhov and Shakespeare. I’m setting the play now because I want it to feel as alive and electric as possible. I want the audience to feel in the room with these characters in the way they did when it was first staged in the Russian provinces. I want it to be surprising, dangerous, real – the way people love and destroy each other without paying any attention.
We’re still talking about the same things they talked about then – humans’ impact on the environment; the way human beings treat one another; how one heart breaks loudly and another breaks silently. And it’s important that the play’s title is UNCLE Vanya – placing Sonya in the title alongside Vanya. She’s the only character that Vanya is uncle to, and her care for him and her love of him are central. Sonya also changes over the four acts, and her loss of hope is the journey of the play.
The actor in the title role
Peter Dinklage has demonstrated a wicked talent for humor in numerous roles and interviews, as well as a finely honed sense of tragedy. When asked recently about the differences between working in film and theater, he said:
There are many differences, but you just want to bring the same amount of truth to whatever you are working on. However, it will be very refreshing to wear regular clothes and drink fake vodka coming off an enormous film like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – and shortly before returning to its next installment, in which I will be working under three hours of heavy prosthetic makeup, having to swordfight, and will be very beaten about for eight months!
A couple working together professionally for the first time
Erica Schmidt and Peter Dinklage are husband and wife, but this is their first production together. Their appetite for Uncle Vanya was whetted in February 2007, when they collaborated on a reading of the play at New York’s Classic Stage Company. Bard subsequently offered them this full new production. Dinklage wryly predicts, “The play will be a roaring success. The marriage is doomed.”
Erica Schmidt chose the English translation of Uncle Vanya by Peter Schmidt in preference to several others. It is appropriately modern and apt, using contemporary vocabulary that Ms. Schmidt also uses when asked to comment:
[Peter Schmidt’s translation] feels the most spare, lean, and modern to me. This is not one of the plays Chekhov subtitled a “comedy”. And while it’s funny –really funny – it’s also not trying to be, and it’s less farcical than The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. And Vanya is subtitled “Scenes from Country Life.” I cannot think of a more magical place to work on Chekhov than the Fisher Center in the summer. I can’t wait.
It’s interesting having Pete play Vanya. It makes lines that usually pass unnoticed or seem antiquated pop in a way that I think is dangerous and timely. For example, Dr. Ástrov often uses the word “freak” – “people are freaks,” and “I must have sounded like a freak.” Or “[Vanya,] you’re a freak, you know that? I used to think freaks were sick but now I've changed my mind. Now I think being a freak is the normal human condition.” It makes us really look at ourselves and our perception of this Vanya!
An article published in 2003 by the Associated Press stated: “Peter Dinklage will not pretend that size doesn’t matter. He just counters people’s curiosity over his height with humor.” AP gives an example: “‘What do you mean? I’m a dwarf, man?’ the four-foot, six-inch actor wails … “Oh, my God! Whoa! I thought it was a part I played! I thought he was the dwarf, not me! I was acting, right?’”
Background to Chekhov’s Vanya
Since its first major staging a little more than a century ago under Konstantin Stanislavski, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya has earned its stripes during innumerable productions in professional theaters, and by amateur players and students working in dozens of languages in many politico-economic systems. Chekhov revised and pruned Vanya extensively, starting out with a couple of dozen characters and ending with an essential nine. The play’s utterly contemporary themes are not the only the local environmentally damaged estate, but all the characters’ essentially frustrated, wasted, and melancholic lives – in spite of their relatively comfortable circumstances. It is such an entirely universal work that almost any sociological or political spin might be applied to it – as was surely the case during the Soviet era.
The story, in brief
On a country farm owned by a self-important retired professor, Alexander Serebriakov, Ivan Petrovich Voynitsky (Vanya) languishes in a funk of dyspeptic self-loathing. “Uncle” Vanya has sacrificed his life to support Professor Serebriakov, and now finds himself sliding into middle-aged obsolescence as the caretaker of the Serebriakov estate. He lusts after the professor’s young and worldly wife, Yelena; he carps and quarrels; he contemplates suicide. Vanya’s friend, Doctor Ástrov, a hard-drinking country physician and proto-environmentalist, chides Ványa for his laziness, but Ástrov also feels curiously useless and lethargic. Ványa claims that the Serebriakovs have put the estate out of kilter, causing everyone’s lethargy. When Serebriakov unveils his plans to sell his farm, a lifetime of multilateral resentment explodes.
Tickets for all 13 performances of Uncle Vanya at Bard are available from the box office of the Fisher Center; by telephone, on weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm, at (845) 758-7900; or online at fishercenter.bard.edu.
Anton Chekhov: Uncle Vanya at Bard SummerScape
Peter Dinklage as Vanya
Ritchie Coster as Astov
Lynn Cohen as Marina
Robert Hogan as Professor Alexander Serebriakov
Taylor Schilling as Yelena
Mandy Siegfried as Sonya
Kate Skinner as Maria Vasilyeva
Robert Langdon Lloyd as Telegin “Waffles”
Directed by Erica Schmidt
Translated by Paul Schmidt
Mark Wendland, set designer
Michelle R. Phillips, costume designer
David Weiner, lighting designer
Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Theater Two
July 9 (preview), 10 (preview), 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, and 19 at 8 pm
July 12, 16, and 19 at 2 pm
July 13 and 20 at 3 pm
Tickets: $45 (General Admission)
July 13: Post-performance talk with Erica Schmidt and members of the cast
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This event was last updated on 09-15-2008