I grew up going to the theater. There were four theaters in Seattle for which we had season tickets at various times: A Contemporary Theater (ACT), then a few blocks from the Seattle Center, Intiman and Seattle Repertory Theater, both on the outer edges of the Seattle Center, and the Theater Off Jackson, a tiny space wedged in next to the Wing Luke Museum in Chinatown. (There were also season tickets to the opera, modern dance at the University of Washington's Meany Theater, and the symphony. My parents loved them all, and as an only child I was swept along into their world). In later years I drifted away from these cultural pursuits, and only now have I slowly come back them. Although this time around it feels strange to be there without my parents, my handbag in one hand, a shawl in the other, running across the street in time to slip into my seat and flip through the program before the lights come down.
A few months I leapt at the chance to see Uncle Vanya at the Intiman Theater. It has been many years since I read Chekhov , and it seems a lifetime has passed since then. Actually, I have never seen Chekhov performed, with the exception of Tennessee Williams' Notebook of Trigorin, which is his Southern-inflected adaptation of The Seagull. (A surreal experience). But I have read his plays and short stories, and here was his Uncle Vanya with the language stripped of its dust to bring this story of love and loss and regret. I was only moderately distracted by a) the presence of Samantha Mathis as Elena and b) the wig worn by the actor who played Astrov and who had a small role in the film The School of Rock. Also, I kept thinking, hey! It's that uptight father from The School of Rock! With a really bad wig! But then they began to speak and all my thoughts fell away, leaving only the glances between characters that I felt like a touch on my own skin, and words that made me laugh one minute and sent a shiver up my spine the next.
I have never loved anyone, and I never will, says Astrov to Sonya on a dark, stormy night. Hard words to hear from someone you have been silently, hopelessly in love with. My heart broke for her, and for her uncle Vanya, the former realizing that she has wasted her youth and has nothing left of promise except for a life of unending work, and the latter who can only look back with desire and regret that he has lost his chance of happiness and is growing old and disillusioned. The professor, Sonya's father, and Elena, his young wife, seem to be sleepwalking through the days on the old estate, Sonya and Vanya and Astrov and the old nanny and Vanya's elderly mother revolving around the spoiled old professor and his enchanting, beautiful wife like planets around two seductive suns. I feel their heartbreak and regret, their hope for a peace that might only come with death, as sharply now when I read from the page as I did when I heard them aloud on the stage, and it is like a caress.