“The world perishes not from robbers, not from fires, but from hatred, hostility, from all these petty squabbles.”—Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Uncle Vanya: Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts (1896), translated by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2018)
It’s funny how, despite numerous times reading a great work of art or seeing it performed, certain lines jump out at you as if you’re hearing them for the first time. Such was the case last night when I was watching one of my favorite plays, Uncle Vanya, in a marvelous PBS broadcast of Richard Nelson’s adaptation.
In the above quote, Yelena is upbraiding the title character for his recent peevishness, choosing to overlook a fact by now obvious to her: that Vanya’s drinking and intemperate outbursts have been triggered by the notion that this young beauty he adores is possessed by his brother-in-law, a retired academic whose pomposity he can no longer abide.
Even with all these ironies behind Yelena’s attempt to affect Vanya, though, the essential truth of her statement has become more and more apparent this past week.
Even with fires in the Amazon increasingly the likelihood of global warming (an outcome that would alarm and dismay another Yelena admirer, Dr. Astrov), the world in recent days has become more mindful than before that public policy is inordinately affected by outbreaks both of tribal hatreds and leaders’ incomprehensible temper tantrums.
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