Answer: “Ivanov” by Anton Chekhov’s first produced play, can be hard to love, with its maddening titular protagonist in the throes of depression and the discursive, repetitive ways in which the characters speak. Nevertheless, it provides plenty of insight into the formation of one the world’s greatest playwrights.
The one thing about Chekhov is that although he creates great drama, he also creates very dislikeable characters. I almost get the feeling that Ivanov was inspired by a real life person who Chekhov disliked and thus experimented with – ‘let’s make him kill himself’. Despite this, it is evident that he has tried (and succeeded, I believe) to sympathize with Ivanov, who is so dislikeable the reader almost feels as if the suicide is justifiable.
The other character who is as dislikeable is Sasha, who believes that she is able to succeed where Anna (Ivanov’s wife) has failed, and that is to provide happiness to and MouldIvanov into perfection. Chekhov’s insight into this character type is incredible – more than a hundred years later, ‘she’ is still around. If I look into the psychology of the young adulteress today, I’m certain I will see Sasha in them. Most women want to redeem a man, possibly because she feels guilt for bringing him down in the first place, if the Adam and Eve story is to be believed.
Ivanov is a financially troubled provincial landowner married to a Jewish woman who renounced her family to be with him, but now finds herself more or less renounced by him. The plot centers on a question: Is Ivanov as much of a scoundrel as those around him contend?
His wife, Anna (portrayed in distinctive contemporary textures by Dorie Barton), is dying of tuberculosis, as the moralistic Dr. Lvov (an appropriately priggish Daniel Bess) keeps reminding her seemingly indifferent husband, who can’t bear spending an evening alone in her company.
Despite Anna’s entreaties, he dashes off to the Lebedev home, where tightfisted Zinaida pesters her put-upon husband, Pasha (an endearing John-David Keller), about Ivanov’s debt to them and their infatuated daughter, Sasha (a cracklingly vivacious Brittany Slattery), dreams of saving this poor depressed visitor, who to her mind only needs the right woman to straighten him out.
Zinaida assumes, in keeping with the town gossip, that Ivanov married Anna for her money and when her parents withheld her dowry lost interest in her. This interpretation may suit the facts, but Chekhov is rather skeptical about those who make snap judgments about the labyrinthine reality of other people’s motivations.
Ivanov is a psychological conundrum. How can such a seemingly sensitive man be guilty of such egregious insensitivity? Del Sherman wisely doesn’t offer an answer. Instead, he makes us privy to the character’s frustration with his own confounded plight. He cuts a dashing figure — there’s a reason Anna and Sasha are both in love with him beyond their desire to save him — yet others understandably find his behavior unconscionable. What’s clear is that no stereotype can adequately define him. He is for better or worse multitudinously human.