The Washington Post
July 23, 2012
NEW YORK — Love is a tragic farce and life can be a wretchedly misspent joke in Anton Chekhov’s dark comedy, “Uncle Vanya.”
The Lincoln Center Festival 2012 continues its theater offerings with a bracing, Australian-accented “Vanya” presented by the Sydney Theatre Company at New York City Center. Andrew Upton’s innovative adaptation and insightful direction by Tamas Ascher create near-farcical behavior and situations for some of Chekhov’s famously broody household members.
Pre-revolutionary Russia has been thoughtfully upgraded with 1940s-era costumes, indicative of the timeless nature of human folly. While this production is almost slapstick at times, the multiple heartbreaks are no less impactful.
The cast is uniformly strong, particularly Cate Blanchett as bored, unhappy heartbreaker Yelena, Hugo Weaving with an energetic portrayal of alcoholic Doctor Astrov, and Hayley McElhinney, radiantly hopeful as lovesick Sonya. Richard Roxburgh’s Vanya is outstandingly nuanced, a truly heartbroken, irritating yet lovable clown, and John Bell is delightfully oblivious as the pompous, selfish Professor Serebryakov.
Every scene is imbued with invigorating, often desperate energy. Doors slam, and characters dance and fight, their self-pity, despair and lassitude flipping into feverish outbursts. Blanchett’s Yelena is cool, graceful and sinuous at first, then becomes clumsy as a filly, nearly tripping over her own long legs in a swirl of painful emotion.
The design team has created a beautifully rundown, wood-paneled interior filled with shabby furnishings, for this disarmingly enjoyable, thoughtful physical production, which has a short run through July 28.