Monday, January 29, 2007

Vanya: A Tale of Two Temperaments

It’s quite different to design a set than to design a building. It is the development of the metaphor that makes it so difficult. The level of abstraction is not generally what you focus on when you are designing a building. In my work I’m trying to solve very real problems. The subtle messages and meaning are probably more important to me and less important to my client. Here, all of that is terribly important.

~ Architect Leigh Breslau commenting on the work of designing the set for Uncle Vanya in the program for the show.


For all of my obsession on the deep, dark and ugly in people – and death, don’t forget the obsession with death – I’m largely an optimist. Okay: a cynical optimist. Left to their own devices I expect folks to flounder and flop awhile and then right themselves on a reasonable course of action.

I have reason to believe that this is not the case for my darlin’companion. He’s told me as much. He has little faith in people – he wholly expects that they’ll do things badly, if at all, and the whole thing will be a wreck as a result.

This is a frequent topic of conversation between us – frequently, if surprisingly, conducted in a light-hearted tone – but I suspect it pains him deeply, this conviction that people are mostly in it for their own gain, that they will hurt others along the way to get what they want, and that wreck and ruin is really all we have to look forward to.

Which might explain our dramatic tastes. I like it dark – if I had to pick a favorite play (please don’t make me pick – there are too many) it would Anouilh’s Antigone – and he prefers the Disney Channel. Prefers to watch the same movie repeatedly, actually, if he can be sure that he’ll be happy with the result. Lindsay Lohan’s remake of the Parent Trap was recently in the loop. (Full disclosure: the ending makes me cry too.)

And I love him for that. He’ll do dark with me, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Emerging from the Court Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago yesterday and I was all amped up, ready to talk about the wreck and ruin of it, the existentialist call for ACTION as the only possible antidote to all this bitter boredom and horrid self-centeredness – the way the cast – and a particularly strong Astrov played by Timothy Edward Kane -- called all that ennui out and raged futilely against it, trying to find their way to insurrection and failing utterly, finally, at the end to do anything but survive it. Barely.

I wanted to talk about how the spare sets, designed by architect Leigh Breslau, presented such a brilliant platform on which to play the play – the way it elevated scenes and frequently left the players suspended over nothingness – because really, wasn’t that what they were battling all the while anyway?

But no: the d.c. would have none of that. He didn’t like it. Didn’t want to talk about it. The whole lot of them were whiners. Not a redeeming one in the bunch. Yes: life is largely miserable, but there will be NO WHINING.

So let’s go home already. And turn on the TV.


The Court Theatre’s Uncle Vanya is playing through February 11th at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Here's the Metromix review »

And here's Mamet and Malle's transcendent take on the Chekhov play »

2 comments:

Lolabola said...

hahahaha that is super funny for some reason.

Years ago I was with a guy that felt the same as your dc about people in general. You know those huge fights you have, generally only with your family or very close friends, where you fight about everything that has ever bothered you until there's nothing left and somehow you either get to the bottom of things or you just walk away exhausted? Well with him, we always came down to the fact that he thought people were inherently bad and I thought the opposite. This final topic was usually argued for a minute or so before we gave up, knowing we would never agree.

I think that Disney may have made him want to slit his throat however. How interesting that the dc concentrates on positive things, the former bf was obsessed with the dark and dramatic and on that front I could never compete.

anniemcq said...

Vanya is my absolute favorite play of all time. I'm trying to go see it here in Portland, because it's supposed to be an excellent production, and because William Hurt is Astrov.

"We shall find peace."

That monologue of Sonya's pretty much sums it up for me.

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