Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Earth Worry

I've not been well for the past five days, so I've spent a lot of time indoors. I haven't done much for Valentine's Day - or for President's Day. I was going to do a bunch, but I just haven't been able to. By Wednesday everything should be righted.

One of the consequences of the strange things going on in my body at the moment and the extra time to prepare for next week is that I'm watching a lot of television. I wish I had been well enough to read, but that wasn't happening, so I've watched a lot of TV. One of the things I watched was Louis Malle's film Vanya on 42nd Street, a film adaptation of Chekov's Uncle Vanya, using David Mamet's adaption of the text.

In act one Doctor Astrov says to Yelena,
When I walk past the forests belonging to the villages, the forests I saved from being cut down, or when I hear the sound of young forest I planted with my own hands, then I realize that the climate is partly in my power too. And if in the course of a thousand years humankind finds happiness, I realize that I too will be partly responsible for it. When I plant a young birch and then see its leaves turn green and the way it sways in the wind, my soul is feeled with pride . . .

What astounds me is that Astrov's sentiments - not the meaning of the play by any means - were not uncommon in 1895 when Chekov wrote the play. How long do we have to talk about taking care of the earth before we stop "destroying what we haven't created," to paraphrase Astrov.

At the end of the play Sonya issues her melancholy apologia for working hard with little reward.

And when our hour has come, we shall die without complaining; and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered, we have wept, our life has been hard and bitter, and God will take pity on us. And you and I, my dear Uncle Vanya, we shall see a life which is bright, beautiful and fine. We shall rejoice and look back on your present misfortunes with a feeling of tenderness, with a smile - and we shall rest. I believe, Uncle, I believe in it fervently, passionately.

I love this play. I worked on a production of it at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, in the late 1980's, and that production is one of my most treasured theatre memories.

But will God take pity on us when he looks at what we have, together, done to his creation? I want it to be so, but I don't know that I believe it, I believe in it fervently, passionately.

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