Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Recasting Uncle Vanya


I made several lists of dream casts for Vanya, a real dream cast including the famous either dead or now too old to play the part. I did a dream list and a local list as well as an Irish list. If I don’t know the actor’s names I listed their recent role...so I can look it up later.. I still have some blanks to fill in. I am notoriously pathetic on knowing actor’s names... 

There were many more candidates and they keep changing as I reevaluate the list. I cast this before I saw August & Vanya on 42nd St., or saw the Michael Codroa 1988 cast list..as Hopkins & Gambon came up several times... I had more trouble casting Sonya than anyone else...I think it’s because I’m casting on looks/ /body type. 

Character         dreamiest                  international cast                  local cast                Irish cast
Vanya         Olivier in the ‘50s          Michael Gambon        SFShakes Falstaff         Colm Meany
                    or Michael Gambon                                         Robert Sicular?            (The Dead lead

Marina       Joan Plowright             Patricia Routledge         Chetana Karel              Kathy Burke
                                                                                                                                                     (Dancing at Lugnasad)

Sonya      ?Ellen Burstyn ca 1970    Saphie from AbFab      Jessica Powell          Sophie Thompson
                                                     ? jane in Persuasion                                                       (Dancing at Lugnasad)

Astrov         Jonathan Pryce         Kenneth Branagh                Matt Klein            Gabriel Byrne
                  or Jeremy Irons         Simon Callow (4 wed)      or Peter Coyote

Prof. Y         Anthony Hopkins         Patrick McGoohan         Owen Murphy            Peter O’Toole        
                                                                                                      or John Cullum (N.Exp)   or Richard Harris
Yelena         Vanessa Redgrave        Kate Winslow??          Annie Long                 Mia Farrow
                                                         or Juliette Binoche                                          or Roma ?

Telegin      John Mills                      Derek Jacobi                    Terry Lamb                  Michael Sullivan in                                                                                        ,              or John Hurt                                                            a    urora WidH                  Waki Ned Devine                                   

Maria        Colleen Dewhurst           Judy Dench                   Verona Seiter                  Sian Phillips

* * *

Several scenarios came to mind—all are filmic versions: A traditional Russian immigrant version set in Appalachia, or in the Yukon during the Gold Rush; a post-modern., post-war production set in Bosnia in 1990s, or something in America set before the millennium (199 years after the production of Vanya), or after 9/11...

I toyed with an Irish version with the peace talks & IRA as subtext...I wanted to do a foil on “rural, Catholic & Gaelic-speaking” stereotype that deValera fostered to the detriment of Ireland...within an urban setting, Dublin or Belfast—with its Beirut facade...a Checkovian pastoral piece set against urban “Freedom of the City” style (Freel) influence... 

Peig Sayers & Maurice O’Sullivan of the Blasket Islands spawned a “peasant” literary tradition, which began when an anthropologist left behind a copy of Gorky’s childhood memoirs on the island...I envision a conversation evolving from this into the idea of an urban production...but I can’t decide a time to set it: 1916, 1969 or the 1990s....

But what really intrigues me is a production set in Russia, post Glasnost, ca. 1989, before the fall, at the same theatre it first opened in Moscow—a 100-year reunion nostalgia piece...but with the overtones of Perestroika rumbling in the background--an echo within an echo... 

Checkov picks up the peasant unrest in both Seagull & Vanya...We as a modern audience know what’s to come, and it adds a layer of irony to Chekov’s portrait of the idleness of the upper classes... and of Astrov’s denunciation of that kind of beauty. Subtext could be the myriad soviet bureaucratic problems with trying to produce the piece...

Another setting or segue could be inside a Peterburg cathedral, the Museum of Atheism & Religion, the play set for the summer of 1991--say June, as August is when things really begin to collapse...I wanted to do a pun on the 100-year anniversary, as it’s mentioned twice in the text...Checkov was obsessed with what was to come with the new millennium, and even mentions the next millennium.... this could become another subtext to explore.

The church was a supreme symbol of Peterburg pride, and was closed by the Soviets...I helped to restore some of the frescoes inside the dome. I could see the artists talking about Checkov as they worked. Sort of inviting their cronies in for an impromptu staging of Vanya The seed could be that they all meet regularly at the famous (and upper crust) Seagull Cafe on Nevsky Prospect...where conversation tends to drift toward theatre: Irina/ Vanya....there’s a definite return to the nostalgia of the past. Some characters are discussing a resurrection of the Tzarist Russia...there are still Romanovs alive, while others are discussing religion...things banned during the regime. 

I could include (Irish) business venture folks too. Many Russian artists & poets are also actors...so it wouldn’t be a leap of faith for them to produce Vanya. I’d scrap my cast list and look for similar body types...At LenFilm Studios, in 1990, I had dinner with Semiyon Aranovich who was banned for producing his “Anna Akhmatova” film (I did an essay on him). I see this production as being quasi-historical. 

The church’s really marvelous inside, and very theatrical...with the rumbling outside, the revolution beginning again in Peter’s Square could turn this into a Mobius strip, or should I say, a Mobius trip of a film.

MFA Playwriting Brighde Mullins
4/23/ 02

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