Ivanov (1887) is an early play by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. When it was written, it mystified the audience as well as the critics, used to a clear-cut characterisation and unambiguous genre rules. Chekhov, in many ways a forerunner and pioneer of contemporary playwriting, turned all the rules upside down. Comical, sometimes even grotesque elements and characters are intertwined with unhappy destinies, botched lives and tragic components.
Chekhov observed his main protagonist and his environment both as an artist and a doctor, interested primarily in the fields of psychiatry and ethical questions. His hero’s »diagnoses« seem surprising familiar and contemporary: burnout, defeatism, weariness, ennui of a once brilliant educated man, entrepreneurial and charismatic idealist. In addition to depression, Ivanov has financial troubles, and is borrowing money from loan sharks, while his conjuring employees keep unnerving him and destroying his assets and reputation. Above all, he is plagued by guilt over his sick wife, whom he is unable to support emotionally, given that he has long since stopped loving her. His new romantic relationship with a daughter of rich landowners is therefore marked from the very start by his own feelings of guilt and general disapproval. However, Ivanov is his own harshest judge, ruthlessly analysing himself all the time, quarrying his thoughts and emotions to understand better what has happened to him and how he drove himself to the very edge of sanity. And yet, even on the edge, he is still capable of solving his position radically. This is why Ivanov ̶ despite, or precisely because of ̶ his »fallacy«, is considered one of the greatest characters of world drama, one of those »procrastinators« holding a mirror to themselves and the entire society because of their uncompromising ethical principles.
In Ivanov, Chekhov says that women corrupt the human race and that they are soon to be held responsible for giving birth to moaners and psychopaths only. In another one of his plays, a group of drunk and disillusioned men in a street cafe start a smart debate about the greatest evil in the world being women, not wars. When we now try to re-define male-female relationships and set up new standards of mutual communication, desired and simultaneously feared, Chekhov sounds incredibly exciting. He portrays male incompetence, weakness, fear, indecisiveness, and female desire for active love. The more one has to invest into love for a miserable man, the better it is, believes young Sasha in reply to Ivanov’s doubts. A primal male-female relationship is at the very core of Ivanov, offers a possibility for an in-depth exploration and verification of our contemporary »liberal« and »conservative« standpoints. Is a woman truly the greatest evil, or is love the only solution?