NY Daily News
July 23, 2012
Blanchett’s comic flair stands out in Chekhov’s classic story of unfulfilled lives. Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh and Hayley McElhinney also star
Boredom becomes Cate Blanchett. Playing the listless love magnet Yelena in “Uncle Vanya,” the “Aviator” Oscar winner and seasoned stage actress has never appeared more fetchingly seductive, achingly funny or flat-out radiant.
Same goes for the Sydney Theatre Company’s sublime take on Anton Chekhov’s popular play. And that’s saying something since this production, presented as part of the City Center Festival, is the third version in nearly as many months for this classic of unfulfilled lives and loves.
Chalk it up to a perfect theatrical storm: adaptation, direction and cast. The script by Andrew Upton (head of STC and Blanchett’s husband) is crisp and clear and as direct as a poke in the eye. Hungarian director Tamás Ascher’s evocative staging shows care and deep thought at every turn.
Written in the 1890s, the story has been transposed to the 1950s, a move that makes the goings-on easy to relate to. It also offers a reason for Yelena to show up clad and coiffed like a Hitchcock heroine.
On a run-down Russian estate operated for decades by Vanya (the sexy and intelligent Richard Roxburgh — the Duke in “Moulin Rouge!”) and his plain-Jane niece Sonya (Hayley McElhinney, captivating), buzzing houseflies haunt the summer air. So does the disappointment of dead-end passions.
The married Yelena is loved by both Vanya and a younger doctor, Astrov (Hugo Weaving). Sonya loves Astrov. None of the would-be affairs end happily. It could make for morose stuff. But Ascher’s highly physical interpretation, filled with pratfalls, Keystone Kop-like chases and roses as rapiers, dredges up every drop of humor bubbling under the desperate, if all too human, circumstances.
In a revival filled with moments to recall and savor, Blanchett’s absolutely fabulous flair for physical comedy — from body language to her nimble voice — stands out. But the one that will stay with me longest centers on Sonya. Without a word, a chair is used to show a young woman’s reversion to childhood — so sweet, so sad, so smart.
It’s been noted that laughter and crying are the same release. Expect to do both during this smile- and heartache-inducing “Uncle Vanya.”