- The first full-length play by Anton Chekhov, firstperformed in Moscow in 1887. The gloomy work opened to a decidedlymixed response, partly because the audience was expecting a lightcomedy in the vein of Chekhov's earlier humorous sketches and partlybecause only two of the cast knew their parts. It was revived withsome success in 1889 at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.Of British productions two in particular stand out: the celebrated 1965 revival with John Gielgud (who also directed) and Claire Bloomand the 2008 Tom Stoppard version, which featured a towering performance by Kenneth Branagh.
Ivanov illustrates Chekhov's idea of himself as an"impartial witness", an aspiration that set him apartfrom his literary contemporaries. "I am not a Liberal, not aConservative," he stated, "I should like to be a freeartist." Ivanov is an extreme version of the neurotic anti-herowho appears in some form in all of Chekhov's serious plays. The characteris a bored and melancholy intellectual, uncommitted and guilt-ridden,lost in endless reveries like Hamlet. Just before Ivanov is to marrySasha, the young girl who has waited patiently for the death of hiswife, he backs out. Before his suicide, he explains:I wander about among my friends like a shadow, and I don'tknow who I am or why I live or what I want.
Chekhov was upset at the audience's failure to understandthat the ineffectual Ivanov was meant to show them the futility oftheir dreams. This was a theme that Chekhov was to develop furtherin his mature works.