In Miami, Russian Classic 'Uncle Vanya' Becomes 'Tio Vania'

Aug 3, 2016

As far back as 1899, Russian playwright Anton Chekhov worried about the environment and the effect that industrialization and its attendant pollution would have on the natural world. He covered that theme and more -- lost love, the wasted life, alienation -- in his play, "Uncle Vanya."

And now, under the direction of playwright Nilo Cruz, the Spanish-language version of the play comes to the Miami-Dade Auditorium's Black Box Theater  as "Tio Vania."

"I've always been an admirer of Chekhov," says Cruz. "He's been very inspirational. And if you study my own work as a playwright, you can see that I've been influenced by him." 

One might say that, in the public mind, Cruz's work and Russian literature have been intertwined ever since the success of his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Anna in the Tropics." The play tells the story of cigar factory workers in 1920s Ybor City and the "lector" who breaks the drudgery by reading Leon Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" to them throughout the work day. 

Puliltzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz says he was inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov.
Credit Miami Dade County Auditorium's On Stage Black Box Theater

Some of the actors in "Tio Vania" are recent arrivals from Cuba, where Russian cultural influence -- while considerably diminished in the last few decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- was pervasive during their youth. Cruz says that might account for the fact that the actors seem to "get" Chekhov so instinctually.

"We have to remember that the Russians were in Cuba for many years," he says. "They've seen Russian productions of plays. They've also had mentors from Russia."

It was important for Cruz that non-Spanish speakers enjoy the production. Years ago, while watching a Lithuanian company perform "Uncle Vanya" in New York, he heard a live, simultaneous translation through headsets provided to non-Russian speakers.  Similar live translation will be done during "Tio Vania."

So, when an actor on stage gives this speech:

"Cada dia es menor el numero de bosques.  Los rios se secan; las aves desaparecen. El clima pierde benignidad.  Y la tierra se afea y desaparece."

Audience members not fluent in Spanish will hear this translation through their headsets:

"The forests are disappearing, the rivers are running dry, the wild life is exterminated, the climate is spoiled, and the earth becomes poorer and uglier every day."

If you go:

"Tio Vania" de Anton Chejov
August 4th to August 14th

MDCA On.Stage Black Box Theatre
2901 West Flagler St 
Miami, FL 33135