Life in Czarist Russia at the turn of the 20th century is bleak. The general malaise infects eco-forward Dr. Astrov, estate manager Vanya and his niece Sonya, while the serfs have little expectation of relief. Russia may be two decades away from the Bolshevik Revolution, but Uncle Vanya, now off-Broadway at the Pearl Theatre, offers a glimpse of a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Like Ibsen, Chekhov is a key figure in the birth of modernism in the theater, albeit with a distinctly Russian sense of foreboding. The doctor, in the guise of the playwright, bemoans: "The climate is changing for the worse, every day the planet gets poorer and uglier."