Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Is the Present Better than the Past?

Last weekend, I saw Christopher Durang's hilarious play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.  Loosely based on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, this story is set in eastern Pennsylvania and includes a cleaning woman who can predict the future.  She was, of course, ignored most of the time.  Her name was Cassandra.  Durang has great fun with the dynamics among the three siblings, and how the young beefcake Spike throws everyone in a tizzy for different reasons.  I loved this play.

Cast (Courtesy Guthrie Theater)
 An undercurrent or subtext ran through the story that was far from funny, although Durang managed to poke gentle fun at it here and there.  Vanya and Sonia are now in their 50's, they've spent most of their adult lives caring for their parents and now they're dead.  They don't know what to do with themselves, and furthermore, believe that they don't know how to do anything different.  They believe that they may have missed out on life and this depresses them, especially compared with Masha who is a famous actress and has traveled the world.

Charles Janasz as Vanya (Courtesy Guthrie Theater)
A part of this subtext, especially for Vanya, is the incursion of present technology into their lives with Spike.  Vanya gives a long speech, triggered by Spike's texting during a play, in which he describes how life in the 1950's and 60's was better than the present, punctuated by the line, "We licked postage stamps!"  Some of the references were quite funny, others poignant, but the overall effect was not nostalgia but a real assessment of how life now compares with life 50 or 60 years ago before the personal computer, cell phones, and iPods.  Vanya's point was that people took the time to spend time with other people, in person, face to face.  Relationships weren't at a distance, determined by language abbreviations.  As Vanya put it, people returned phone calls.  Vanya's speech also provoked applause at some moments.

Vanya's speech was my favorite big moment of the play (in spite of a gorgeous blue sequined gown that Sonia wore at one point).  It affirmed a lot of my own complaints about technology today.  More importantly, it brought humanity back into the discussion.  Baby boomers are quite real people with much to offer the younger generations, especially in interpersonal relations and how to have them. 

What do you think about the present vs. the past?  If you are a younger person, are you open to learning more about the past or no?  If you're an older person, how do you feel about present technology? 

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