"I hate the play and I'm trying to forget it," Anton Chekhov wrote in 1899 about The Wood Demon, an early version of Uncle Vanya. "It would be a real blow to me if some unknown force were to drag it out of obscurity and bring it to life. There's a fine example of perverted parental love for you."
The torturous path from The Wood Demon to Uncle Vanya makes Chekhov's rejection of the first script understandable. During The Wood Demon premiere in 1889, actors from a rival theatre, jealous that they hadn't received Chekhov's latest play, howled, whistled, and jeered from the boxes. The din of the audience made it impossible to hear the players, but it didn't make a difference since the actors forgot their lines and the actresses were atrocious. The audience booed, and Chekhov had the play withdrawn immediately from the repertory. Concerned that the sprawling script was as much to blame as the actors, he refused to include The Wood Demon in the first comprehensive edition of his works. Chekhov's loathing for his play has been shared by most producers since the premiere: The Wood Demon wasn't staged again in Moscow until 1960.
Humiliated by the critics' lambasting of what he had described as his "big romantic comedy," Chekhov resolutely turned his back on the theatre after The Wood Demon fiasco and refocused his energies on his primary profession: medicine. In the spring of 1890, he left Moscow for the island of Sakhalin, a notorious penal colony on the Pacific frontier of the vast Russian empire. After a grueling three-month, trans-Siberian odyssey, Chekhov reached the desolate island and spent four months studying the inhabitants' savage living conditions.