Kudos to Aimee Lou Wood (Laurie Nunn’s Sex Education, NETFLIX) for making me cry my eyes out at the end of Uncle Vanya.
SFP and Angelica Films filmed the 2020 West End revival of Chekov’s play after it was interrupted last March due to COVID. Previously aired on the BBC, the film debuted on PBS’s Great Performances last night.
Credit goes to Chekhov, of course, and to Conor McPherson’s adaptation which gave this stunning closing monologue the update it needed to penetrate the tragedy of my cynicism.
It is a piece, perhaps that cannot succeed without context, without the subtext of four acts of drama that come before it. If I had only read Chekhov’s final words, external of production, I would have likely rolled my eyes. McPherson’s translation pays homage to the pure and inspiring sentiments of Chekhov’s indefatigable Sonia while grounds her words in a way that makes them palatable. Not just palatable, but potent. I am reminded of Beckett who famously wrote (years after Chekhov): “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” (The link between these two writers is evident although comparisons are more often made between Waiting for Godot and The Three Sisters.)
I had to get McPherson’s text just so I could compare his translation with the traditional one. I post a clipping here with the traditional translation below.
Still, I doubt they are as genuinely moving without Wood’s performance and without the more than two hours of play that build a bridge between the frustration of Chekhov’s characters and our own.
The traditional translation via Project Gutenberg @ https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1756/1756.txt
VOITSKI. [To SONIA, stroking her hair] Oh, my child, I am miserable; if
you only knew how miserable I am!
SONIA. What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall
live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days
before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the
trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest,
both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall
meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have
suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on
us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful
life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender
smile–and–we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate
faith. [SONIA kneels down before her uncle and lays her head on his
hands. She speaks in a weary voice] We shall rest. [TELEGIN plays softly
on the guitar] We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see
heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink
away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will
be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have
faith. [She wipes away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are
crying! [Weeping] You have never known what happiness was, but wait,
Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. [She embraces him] We shall rest. [The
WATCHMAN’S rattle is heard in the garden; TELEGIN plays softly; MME.
VOITSKAYA writes something on the margin of her pamphlet; MARINA knits
her stocking] We shall rest.
The curtain slowly falls.