July 25, 2012
Oscar winner Cate Blanchett returns to the New York stage in a revival of “Uncle Vanya.” NY1’s Roma Torre filed the following report.
Boredom is mentioned so many times in “Uncle Vanya”, you might think that’s all that the play is about. And in fact, that’s the trap many productions fall into – turning Chekhov classics into long-winded studies of lethargy in the Russian hinterlands. But in the Sydney Theatre Company’s scintillating version, it is anything but boring.
Starring the great Cate Blanchett in a performance that brings to mind Meryl Streep, this “Vanya” is an impassioned joyride from start to finish.
The adaptation by Blanchett’s husband and co-artistic director Andrew Upton is all about the very human yearning to find meaning and love amid life’s mundane realities. Upton and director Tamas Ascher seized on this very universal theme with great clarity, touching empathy and a fine sense of humor. And as staged and performed, it’s a comedy and tragedy all in one.
They’ve also moved up the setting from turn-of-the-century Russia to the 1950s, showcasing Blanchett in gorgeous couture. But the real beauty of it is that as regal and classy as Blanchett’s Yelena appears, when it comes to affairs of the heart we find that she can be as awkward as everyone else, perhaps even more so.
Unrequited love infects just about all of the characters in this unhappy household and the actors play their parts to the hilt. Richard Roxburgh as the miserable Vanya, who runs the dilapidated rural estate, is in love with Yelena who’s arrived from the city with her older, gout-ridden husband.
Yelena is attracted to the worldly alcoholic Dr. Astrov, played by Hugo Weaving, who also happens to be the object of young Sonya’s affections, the vibrant Hayley McElhinney. Frustrated and depressed, they each get to erupt magnificently. And with a whimsical soundtrack, it all makes for thrilling theater.
The element that makes a classic is timelessness but given this production’s resonant appeal, it goes even further. Rarely has an Anton Chekhov play felt so much of our time.