Uncle Vanya begins on the lawn of a sprawling country estate in late 19th century Russia. Marina, the elderly housekeeper, sits peaceably knitting while Astrov, the family doctor, reminisces about the days when he first came to the country. The estate belongs to an academic named Serebryakov, and is managed year-round by his daughter Sonya and Ivan “Vanya” Voinitsky, his brother-in-law from a previous marriage. Now, newly married to the lovely and alluring Yelena, Serebryakov has returned home to settle into his new life. Unfortunately their arrival causes disruption and idleness among the house’s residents, all of whom feel a general sense of discontent with their lives.
Astrov, a relatively young man in his mid-thirties, delivers a speech about how bored he feels with life and how much he’s aged in the last few years. He, Marina, and Vanya agree that the arrival of the Professor and his new wife has caused disruption and thrown off everyone’s schedules. Now they are all consumed with lethargy and idleness. As they are complaining, the other residents of the country home return from a walk on the grounds: Serebryakov, his young wife Yelena, daughter Sonya, and their impoverished neighbor Telyegin (also known as Waffles).
When the Professor isn’t listening, Vanya criticizes his few professional achievements and we learn that he feels cheated by Serebryakov--whom he used to admire for his academic brilliance. Now he is disillusioned and considers the professor a “charlatan.” Vanya also readily admits to Astrov that he’s jealous of the professor’s success with women, and it’s true: all the women of the house dote on Serebryakov, while Vanya is more or less ignored. Vanya also declares that it’s a shame that Yelena is faithful to the professor--he thinks it “unnatural” that a lovely young woman like Yelena should tie herself down to a grouchy old man like Serebryakov.
Maria, Vanya’s mother, joins the group for tea, but objects to her son’s ill treatment of his