Monthly Archives: August 2011

Uncle Vanya Review Roundup Part Two Plus Exclusive Personal Pics from DC Stage Door

Note: This is an archived entry that’s several years old. While I have ensured that all photos are restored, some links may no longer work. If you encounter any dead links, let me know and I’ll try to find a copy of the material. Some entries may not be up to my current standards as far as photo source and other credits are concerned; if you are a photographer or writer of a piece that lacks appropriate acknowledgement, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add source info.

Enthusiatically positive reviews for Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya at The Kennedy Center continue to pour in, so I’ll post another selection of quotes and links. I was lucky enough to attend the “Look-in”, a Q&A session with some cast members, on August 16, followed by that evening’s performance. I’m prepping what will probably be an extensive entry on that experience for my personal LJ, but I’ll share a few comments about the play here. I know I’m biased about both Hugo Weaving and the STC, but this is one of the greatest evenings of theatre I’ve ever experienced, right up there with Ian McKellen in Richard III and STC’s Hedda Gabler. (If somone put a gun to my head, I’d say that Vanya is just a bit better than Hedda Gabler, because it potrays a warmer, more empathetic set of characters, though they’re all deeply flawed in various ways.) It’s far and away the best production of Chekhov I’ve ever seen, because it doesn’t dwell excessively on the characters’ self pity and sense of doom in the way some productions do. All of the actors deliver extraordinary work, and it’s a true ensemble piece, with no one upstaging anyone else.

New, improved version of the WireImage pic of Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh and Australian Ambassador Kim Beazley at the Uncle Vanya premiere party, 6 August… thanks to a kind Richard Roxburgh fan for the link. 😉

Hugo and Cate Blanchett are perhaps getting the most attention because they’re the most famous cast members, and because their characters indulge in a delirious romantic misfire. But Richard Roxburgh, Hayley McElhinney, John Bell and Jacki Weaver more than hold their own alongside them, and Anthony Phelan adds understated, disheveled charm in a supporting role. I don’t want to rehash the plot the way some critics have, though I’m happy to answer questions if anyone has any. I’ve never seen these characters made so relatable and human… even the stuffy, egotistical Serebryakov (Bell) isn’t completely unsympathetic, though his actions (and attractive young wife) stir up a lot of trouble. The four acts each have a distinct tone, with Act II providing a lot of  lively drunken catharsis (much of it goaded on by Hugo’s Astrov). Roxburgh does a  masterful job inhabiting Vanya, arguably the most difficult role in the play because he’s such a humiliated wreck, bemoaning his failings in life and romance. Roxburgh gives him welcome touches of vigor and humor. Hayley McElhinney’s Sonya might be the most sympathetic character to many audience members because she retains a strong, moral center throughout, despite a raging unrequited crush on Astrov (poor dear, we can all relate.) 😉 The ending isn’t as obnoxiously pious or desperate as some versions have made it; Sonya’s final words now seem an act of will and self-motivation (and prodding of her uncle) rather than the last delusion she has left to cling to. The disruptive events of the play don’t seem as completely destructive or final… everyone is sadder and wiser, but they all know one another a bit better, and life still might have something to offer them. If they can only get out of their own way, of course.

I could go on and on about Hugo’s performance… I probably will over time. He’s playing a character that, even on paper, seems designed to make me fall in love with him. Then there’s the casting. Hugo often sexily growls his lines, especially when trying to seduce Blanchett’s Yelena, but even then he isn’t taking himself completely seriously. The character was once deeply concerned about environmental issues, and ahead of his time in many ways, but doubts the ability of humanity to act sensibly. Thus he’s become cynical and alcoholic, with occasional flashes of his old idealism. He doubts his ability to truly love anyone, though he’s more than willing to “give Yelena a tumble” to distract himself. Blanchett makes Yelena much more sympathetic than she should be, being a manipulative trophy wife with a roving eye. One believes she sees her youthful romanticism in Sonya, and truly wants to be on good terms with her, but has become jaded about love because her youthful crush on a professor who inspired her has now devolved into a loveless marriage to a constantly kvetching hypochondriac. (Serebyrakov’s gout is the initial pretext for Astrov’s constant presence, but Yelena soon becomes the real reason.) It’s hard to say whether Astrov and Yelena are in love, or just sexually fascinated with one another…I’d lean toward the latter, though I think both have more feelings than they want to admit, or know how to cope with. Sonya is in love with the man she thinks Astrov is, while Yelena is attracted to the “strange old crank” he’s become, because she can relate to that. This version makes Yelena older than Chekhov, who lists her as being 27 in his stage notes… at one point Blanchett soothes her suspicious husband by sighing, “Just wait five or six years… I’ll be old too.” Blanchett plays Yelena’s awkward seduction scene like bored, somewhat desperate woman who’s been out of circulation for some time, but now attempts a coltish Marilyn Monroe impersonation. There are several levels to her acting in the scene, most subtly suggested through her movements. Hugo’s Astrov is initially nonplussed that Yelena is once again feigning interest in his causes just to get close to him, but is more than happy to call her bluff. (And call her a “delicious predator”.) At which point all hell breaks loose, as it must. 😉

I think in general the play is easier to relate to if you’re past the youthful, idealistic stage. Many younger (or escapist-leaning) audiences say they find Chekhov boring or depressing because “nothing happens” and there aren’t Shakespearian power struggles or body counts. But if you’ve had a few life experiences (or disappointments) it’s much easier to see the humor and endearing frailty of the characters. As far as some previous reviews go:  Yes, the kiss between Astrov and Yelena is a doozy. No, the play isn’t set in Soviet Russia, or any dogmatically rendered historical period. The costumes and props suggest the 1940s to 60s, but the cast and director have stressed time and again that they aren’t attempting rigorous historical recreation. The focus is– and should be– on the characters and their universal dilemmas. I don’t remember this sort of literalist whining about McKellan’s fascist Richard III (or the historical inaccuracies in Shakespeare’s plays themselves, for that matter.) And yes, the cast have Australian accents. For some reason this is controversial to some people. Richard Roxburgh had some brilliantly withering comments about this at the Q&A. (I thought it would be taped, and now wish I had taken notes…) Anyhow, he said, in effect, that all translations are at a remove from the original, so accents might as well be authentic to whoever is staging the play. “….unless you think we should all just learn Russian,” Roxburgh quipped. Cate added that the play is as much Australian in this version as it is Russian, in striving for a greater universality. The adaptation by Andrew Upton renders Chekhov’s dialog more conversationally in places, and many references to obscure Russian writers and philosophers are omitted or truncated. But nothing is substantially changed, per se… I found what I saw and heard to be an accurate rendering of the literal-translation text I found online, just less stilted and more colloquial. (There is some mild cursing, but never anachronistic slang or meta-referencing.)

I realize I’ve already gone on quite a bit, so I’ll cut my own impressions short and stress that anyone who can see this production should, if at all possible. And if you can’t, go leave comments on STC’s website begging them to film it, or make a sequel to In The Company Of Actors. I know neither would really duplicate the experience of seeing the lay, but this production is once in a lifetime in its quality, and should be documented in some way.

Now to comments by other, more concise reviewers (the first critical roundup of the play can be seen here, if you missed it.) I’ll intersperse some photos my boyfriend John took at he Kennedy Center, including some of Hugo at the stage door. 😉 Yes, I got an autograph… I’ll save that story for my personal LJ too. Suffice to say he remains a generous, patient man in his interactions with fans, and is a calming presence. I’ve never met anyone so famous who is so approachable and unaffected. And, yes, gorgeous. Hugo’s looking very tanned and toned these days.

Hugo signs autographs, chats with fans outside the Kennedy Center August 16

The Reviews: “…The men are equally strong, especially Roxburgh and Weaving. Roxburgh as Vanya
is funny, charming, and so very depressed. He feels his life has been for
nothing and his work has gone to support the empty shell that is his
brother-in-law. In the year’s I’ve watched Hugo Weaving on screen I can’t say
I’ve ever thought of him as a leading man, but he’s magnetic on stage as Astrov.
The good doctor likes his vodka a little too much, and is also dissatisfied with
his work and life. But his lectures on deforestation and the dangers to the
environment are very contemporary. Since Chekhov was a doctor, you do wonder in
all this talk, if Astrov is the playwright’s own voice.”   White Rose

“Hugo Weaving is a dynamo as Dr. Astrov. Called upon to take his physicality to
the extreme, he never rings false upon the stage. Whether drunkenly dancing or
leaping with a bounce after a fall, Mr. Weaving is magnetic. It is very easy to
see why Sonia and Yelena are drawn to him….” The Accidental Thespian

“…although she talks about her unending “boredom,” Blanchett makes it clear that
Chekhov was not writing about conventional boredom, but rather of a deeper sense
of estrangement. Roxburgh is a thoroughly appealing Vanya, funny, open and
honest, lost in his devotion to Yelena….Weaving creates a brilliant Astrov, a man prone to heady talk but ready to dance
his troubles away when drunk. Hayley McElhinney plays Sonya with poignant charm.
The remaining members of the ensemble are first-rate.” Washington Examiner

“…Cate Blanchett proves once again that she is a master of both the screen and
stage. She wanders around as the disenchanted object of affection, but after a
few swigs of Russian water, she loses all airs of dignified distance, rolling
her eyes at Vanya’s musings and delighting in drunken girl talk with Sonya. Her
scenes with Hugo Weaving, who you might remember from a little film called
The Matrix, are simply electric. Weaving’s charismatic Astrov is a
doctor and a family friend, and it is his sharp sensibility that wins Yelena’s
heart. Their scenes together make for a masterful acting class, emphasizing the
subtle power of a sideways glance or a hand on the knee…” Woman About Town

“…I could go on about the generous, full-bodied performances but I’ll let one
detail suffice; the way each character reacts to vodka is wonderfully funny and
astutely particular. Never generically drunk, the characters’ inner lives are
magnified and, at times, set free in stunning detail by knocking back a shot (or
two…or three). Weaving’s Astrov does a sexy, joyous lunge of a Russian dance.
Roxburgh’s Vanya inflates and deflates like the sad clown of a silent film.
Hayley McElhinney’s Sonya is struck dumb with adolescent paralysis and
unspeakable joy/fear. And Blanchett’s Yelena hilariously bubbles and coos as she
searches for a place to settle. Intoxicating.” The Broadway Blog

“More than any other actor, Blanchett sets this production’s tone of slapstick
tragedy. Yet this Sydney company is so inspired that Blanchett gives only
the third most prodigious performance. Roxburgh is spellbinding as Vanya: funny
and poignant not just in turn, but often at the same time. Weaving acts with a
bedraggled everyday heroism that is stirring, and he’s full of surprises — when
he breaks into a Russian dance, he’s extraordinarily light on his feet.” Mike Sragow, Baltimore Sun

“…Following a 6-month break after Uncle Vanya‘s first run in Sydney, this
all-Australian cast reconvened for its exclusive U.S. engagement in D.C. By the
time it got here, the director trusted the cast with the material and told them
to surprise each other every night. This gives them the freedom to work within
the framework of the play and means that each show is apparently a little
different from the last. (Now, I kind of want to see it again!)…” Melissa’s Kitties

“…This production was an excellent reminder of the humor in Chekhov, without
crossing that boundary into farce, and also of just how much can be contained in
between Chekhov’s spoken lines, the glances, the pauses, the movements, and
gestures. A great example was the awkward final kiss between Yelena (Cate
Blanchett, all platinum hair and out-of-place stylishness) and the country
doctor Astrov (played with loose-limbed swagger and whimsical humor by Hugo
Weaving), in which barely suppressed passion is mis-coordinated to the point of
embarrassment. This was an ingenious decision since Astrov is a man so incapable
of human attachment that the most heartfelt relationship he has in the play is
with the family’s old nurse, played with disarming simplicity by veteran actress
Jacki Weaver.” IonArts

“…I had never been more enthralled with people discussing boredom. At first,
watching, I didn’t know what to do with them. Then they started to act out some.
Then they started to feel familiar. Chekhov’s gun, this time around, was
passion. Set into rural Russia, this contraband was symbolic, yes. But if such a
situation could happen to a whole country trapped in a room, it could happen to
you, looking out. Laughs would occur, and you wouldn’t be alone. But you would
still be in the room.” Patrick Cooper

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh taped an interview for PBS Newshour on August 15, the night before I saw the play. A lot of the material covered here also came up in the Q&A (Look-In) on August 16, though the latter was much more fun. (Also, Hugo Weaving, John Bell and Hayley McElhinney attended the Look-In. All were very casually attired… Hugo in the denim you see in the above photos, his costars similar. Though Cate Blanchett remains so stunningly beautiful with no make-up and her hair tied back carelessly that you might momentarily lose your will to live.) 😉 Here’s the full 20-minute edit of the PBS interview:

…And you should also check out Hugo’s brief but winsome interview with Metro Weekly, which mostly focuses on his classic role in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Hugo had mentioned Vanya director Tamas Ascher’s instruction to “find your clowns” in developing their characters for the play… in this interview, he adds a twist: “Everyone has a drag queen inside them…And it’s a matter of finding the particular drag that suits you, that lives inside you.” 😉

Finally, I’ve added scans of the Uncle Vanya Playbill at my Flickr Archive. Alas, there’s no deluxe program as there was with Hedda Gabler at BAM in 2006, but I’ve tried to share everything… More thoughts will follow on my personal LJ for anyone I haven’t exhausted already. 😉

Uncle Vanya Review Roundup

Note: This is an archived entry that’s several years old. While I have ensured that all photos are restored, some links may no longer work. If you encounter any dead links, let me know and I’ll try to find a copy of the material. Some entries may not be up to my current standards as far as photo source and other credits are concerned; if you are a photographer or writer of a piece that lacks appropriate acknowledgement, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add source info.

Before I head down to Washington DC to check out STC’s Uncle Vanya for myself, I thought I’d post a compilation of all the positive reviews that have appeared so far… really all of the reviews, since they’ve been uniformly rapturous. 😉 Click on the links to read the full texts at the site of origin… here are select quotes with an emphasis on Hugo Weaving’s performance as Astrov:

“…Ascher, a Hungarian, moves the tragicomedy up in time, from Chekhov’s czarist Russia, circa 1899, to the Soviet era, say around 1955. In the context of a spreading totalitarian malaise, the transposition — aided immensely by Andrew Upton’s punchy translation — works terrifically. Our familiarity with reflections on the oppressiveness of the Soviet era turns this stifling landscape into apt metaphor. So when the magnetic doctor, Astrov, played to beguiling, vodka-soaked perfection by Hugo Weaving, talks of a brighter future for generations yet unborn, we intuit even more profoundly than usual that it’s a future he doesn’t believe in….”  Peter Marks, The Washington Post

“…Under most circumstances I’d run a country mile to avoid being trapped in a room with the desperate characters now inhabiting the Sydney Theater Company’s production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” at the Kennedy Center here. Yet I consider the three hours I spent on Saturday night watching them complain about how bored they are among the happiest of my theatergoing life. …Staged by the Hungarian director Tamas Ascher — and featuring a brilliant daredevil performance by Cate Blanchett as a chipped trophy wife — this “Uncle Vanya” gets under your skin like no other I have seen. For what is created here is an ever-pulsing portrait of just how impossible and essential it is to live in close quarters with those maddening creatures called human beings, especially those you regard (Heaven help you) as family….But the entire cast — which also includes Jacki Weaver (unrecognizable from her Oscar-nominated turn in “Animal Kingdom”) as the old family nanny, Sandy Gore as Vanya’s petulant mother and Anthony Phelan as a hapless hanger-on — is close to Ms. Blanchett’s level (and in the case of Mr. Weaving, right there on it). They all give thoroughly detailed physical performances, in which you always feel both the chafe and dubious comfort of domestic intimacy…When Ms. Blanchett and Mr. Weaving’s characters finally lock lips — as you know they have to — it is one of the saddest, funniest, sexiest and most gracefully awkward misfires in the history of kissing.”  Ben Brantley, New York Times. (Mr. Brantley ponders Hugo and Cate’s kiss further in this column.)

“Hungarian director Tamas Ascher guides the steadily building tension with an unwavering hand, crafting an engrossing environment where the actors luxuriate in lulls as much as they do language. The Oscar-winning Blanchett — a marquee attraction who is more luminous than any mere sign that’s ever borne her name — delivers such a deft, delightful performance that she alone would be reason enough to secure a ticket… Yet Roxburgh’s Vanya proves that Blanchett isn’t the only blond bombshell onstage. He simmers and sulks and yearns — and ultimately detonates with such force that he very nearly destroys himself. Weaving’s Astrov is a fascinating study of a man who would swagger more if he weren’t staggering around so much from the vodka he loves…”   Jonathan Padget, Metro Weekly

“Totally bored and indifferent to her husband, Yelena alternates from icily poised to warm and almost goofy, but mostly she is restless. And while Vanya’s romantic advances repulse her, she does feel something for the visiting doctor Astrov (played superbly by Hugo Weaving, best known for the film, “The Adventures Priscilla: Queen of the Desert”). Though coarsened by a decade of hard work and vodka, Astrov remains charming and sensitive. Forward thinking like the playwright (Chekhov was also a physician), the doctor is obsessed with preventing the deforestation of the countryside. In fact, he delivers a monologue with a strong environmental message that strongly resonates today more than a century later.

Regardless of Astrov’s recommendation that Russians spare trees and extract fuel from the earth, a workman can be seen frequently chopping wood in the background. And despite (or because of) the doctor’s aversion to felled trees, Zsolt Khell’s set is mostly timber. The interior of the formerly grand but now rundown house is backed by a huge wall of weathered planks and firewood is stacked here and there.

Working from a lively adaptation by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband with whom she runs Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company), Ascher rather brilliantly moves the action from turn-of-the-century Tsarist Russia to mid-1950s Soviet Union. There is no romantic descent into genteel poverty or hope for the future. The atmosphere is more stultifying than ever: as pesky flies drone, radio static hums, the household grows increasingly on edge, ultimately erupting in bursts of violence. And when they’re not fighting, the extended family goes in for demonstrations of remorse, friendship and passion. Also included throughout are some very funny uncomfortable silences, pratfalls and drunken interludes, but nothing feels the least forced when executed by this top-notch group of Aussie actors.” Patrick Folliard, The Washington Blade

Richard Roxburgh as Vanya, Hugo Weaving as Astrov (original Sydney production, Lisa Tomasetti photo)

“It’s hard to make an audience root for such ineffectual malcontents — some may even say losers. But Ascher and his cast find unexpected entries into the characters.

Bored and married to an uppity boor, Yelena is surprisingly sympathetic. Astrov calls her a “delicious predator,” but she’s more of a hapless prisoner of her own beauty. Blanchett’s attention-grabbing mannerisms serve her well here: This Yelena is a star in search of a movie.

Meanwhile, Roxburgh and Weaving are superbly beaten down, finding dignity in frustration for Roxburgh, melancholy for Weaving. You’d be hard-pressed to find more affecting misery.” Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post

“A true ensemble piece, this amazing cast is led by the extraordinary Richard Roxburgh as the dissatisfied Uncle Vanya; John Bell as his brother, the retired and rheumatic Professor; Cate Blanchett as Yelena; the poignant Hayley McElhinney as her hardworking and plain stepdaughter Sonya; and the marvelous Hugo Weaving as the doctor Astrov, who Sonya secretly loves. The cast is rounded out by Jacki Weaver as sympathetic nanny Marina, Anthony Phelan as Telegin, Andrew Tighe as a laborer, and Sandy Gore as the matriarch Maria.

The story is a study on human nature, and the dysfunction in every family: love, regret, admiration, anger, envy. Vanya embodies ennui and discontent. Despite its light moments, I left the theatre with a sense of unease (despite being bowled over yet again by Cate’s stupendous acting abilities and stage presence). Chekhov makes you reflect on inaction, missed opportunities, resignation about one’s lot in life.” Lani, Stage Notes

“But these are fascinating creatures just the same, perhaps more so than usual, thanks to …

Andrew Upton’s adaptation of the play, which has a crisp, contemporary ring without being forced. And thanks also to director Tamas Ascher, who keeps the tension strong even when things are at their most static and who ensures that the flashes of humor register potently — I’m not sure Chekhov has ever been quite this funny…Hugo Weaving likewise fully inhabits the role of Astrov, the bored country doctor whose presence at the estate proves unsettling to several people in several ways. Weaving is especially deft at revealing the liberating influence of drink on the otherwise low-keyed doctor. When he kicks up his heels, he sends a seismic jolt through the play. He is no less delectable in the scene with Blanchett when Astrov and Yelena finally have their moment of passion, however abbreviated, however absurd. ” Tim Smith, Clef Notes and Drama Queens/Baltimore Sun

“There are no weaknesses in this lively and penetrating production that benefits from a talented ensemble, a frank new adaptation by Andrew Upton and a nuanced interpretation by Hungarian director Tamas Ascher, a renowned Chekhov scholar…Hugo Weaving fashions a carefully textured performance as the confident but hopelessly smitten Dr. Astrov. The free-spirited character, who commutes to the estate on his motorcycle, is intensely focused on his interests but blind to Sonia’s affections. Yet all pretensions are lost when he suddenly falls out the window after too many vodkas — a bit of business that perfectly captures Ascher’s refreshing and unforgettable production.” Paul Harris, Variety

“Anyone who’s ever felt trapped in a sense of existential despair—or been compelled to drown said despair by diving headfirst into a vodka bottle—can learn a lot from Anton Chekhov. His tragically wise, comically morose characters make our 21st century navel-gazing look positively paltry in comparison, as they cling to jokes instead of Prozac and embrace nihilism as a veritable art form.

‘We are blessed with imagination to create . . . and all we’ve done is destroy,’says a doctor in Andrew Upton’s brilliant new adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, possibly aware that his own talent and youth has been similarly wrecked by years of boozing and hopelessness. Dr. Astrov (played by the remarkably versatile Hugo Weaving) is one of many depressed characters illuminated in this production by the Sydney Theatre Company, currently experiencing an extended period of brilliance at the hands of Upton and his wife, Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett…

…If the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which came to the Kennedy Center in 2009, felt like a starring vehicle for the flawless Blanchett, Vanya is much more of an ensemble production. Nearly every cast member, from the tragically hopeless Roxburgh to the brilliantly expressive McElhinney, is mesmerizing to watch. Weaving, familiar to most from his role as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, seems to summon up hints of another character here: his compelling, masked anarchist in V for Vendetta. As a helplessly charismatic and self-destructive environmentalist (his character worships forests but despairs of what may happen to them), he seems trapped, like the others, in a spiral of drunkenness and futility.”  Sophie Gilbert, After Hours/The Washingtonian

” The actors’ accents arise typically from down under. Jacki Weaver, Oscar-nominated this year for Animal Kingdom, is broad of speech and warm of bearing. Hayley McElhinney’s Sonya is showily plain, whereas Astrov, the local physician whom she loves, is given moments of hearty abandon by Hugo Weaving. His look-at-me performance was the evening’s most theatrical, not to mention my favourite, which suggests that old adages about the virtue of non-acting sometimes have notable exceptions.” Brandon Lemon, The Financial Times

“The production features a slam-bang performance by film actress Cate Blanchett, who throws herself into the role of the luminously tarnished trophy wife of the gouty and pretentious older professor with the verve of a screwball comedienne under the spell of Stanislavsky. Miss Blanchett, wearing fit-like-a-glove frocks from the 1950s that recall the finest Hitchcock blondes, brings playfulness and lithe physicality to the part, resulting in pratfalls and near-misses that reveal just how inept Yelena and the other characters are at intimate contact…This entrenched isolation extends to the country doctor Astrov (Hugo Weaving), desired by both Sonya and Yelena and who can blame them since Mr. Weaving gives the character such a potent combination of romanticism and elegant cynicism the good doctor is simply sex on a blini. No wonder Miss Blanchette’s Yelena tackles Mr. Weaving’s Astrov like a linebacker pouncing on a fumble during their destined –but poignantly graceless—kiss.”  Jayne Blanchard, DC Theater Scene

“Though this set-up has the makings of a depressing evening, director Tamás Ascher, who is known for his interpretations of Chekov, finds glimmers of light within the darkness. Consider the scene between Yelena and Sonya, where the two end years of estrangement and share a poignant and all-too-brief moment of sheer joy. Astrov’s drunken dance for Vanya not only brings some welcome comic relief, but also showcases Weaving’s impressive stage presence, making it all the more clear why he is becoming a Hollywood go-to for roles requiring a certain gravitas. Even the play’s climax, in which Vanya attempts to shoot Serebryakov, is portrayed with comedic undertones.” Sriram Gopal, The DCist

“…A magnificent Hugo Weaving is the doctor Astrov whose desire for Yelena soon brings events to a head. All of these performances are notable for they easily make the characters appear rough and tumble without the actors themselves coming off sloppy. This is not a production of furtive glances, but one of grabbing, mauling, and direct physical contact. The show feels real and lived in, not just spoken about and acted out. The mid-20th Century setting and earth tone color palette invoke Australia more than Russia, but adds to the sense of people living their lives and bumping up against each other in doing so. It’s a much more refreshing approach to Chekhov than the rather dreary political version recently seen on stage in London’s National Theater where The Cherry Orchard appeared earlier this summer. I, like many in the U.S. saw that as part of the NT Live series in local theaters. But for those of you on the east coast, this Uncle Vanya is the real deal and right in your own backyard. Don’t miss it before it’s gone next month.” Brian, Out West Arts

“…Hugo Weaving is magnetic as the vodka ladened doctor Astrov. He is a force perfectly matched with Ms. Blanchett. Much of their sexual tension is carried throughout the play and it is SO palpable. In fact, they didn’t even need to say much. It’s felt and seen through their the very nuanced actions. Cate Blanchett, as Yelena is restless and an enticement without knowing it. She is, in one word, incredible. I have never seen a stage presence ever so strong that your eyes are drawn to her. Her walk across the stage, a lean on the wall or even how she sits on a chair tells you so much without even speaking. I know I am gushing but I am really in awe. I mean, she’s a well known actress with a “celebrity” factor but she managed to inhabit Yelena that I had forgotten that she was Cate Blanchett and just saw the character. It’s one theatre experience I’ll never forget.” Pinky, Stage Notes

Hayley McElHinney as Sonya, Hugo Weaving as Astrov; photo Washington Post/Getty Images

More reviews: Bloomberg News, Northern Virginia Review, TheaterMania

More articles about the Washington DC production of STC’s Uncle Vanya: Sydney Morning Herald, Faded Youth, Express Night Out (Richard Roxburgh interview), USA Today (Cate Blanchett interview), The Washington Post (full cast interview and photo gallery), The Washingtonian (Hayley McElhinney interview), Associated Press, ABC Sydney, Playbill, Russian Review, The Social Shuttle and The Australian. And, if you want to read it again (annd who wouldn’t?) ;)… Hugo Weaving’s Baltimore Sun interview.

There’s a good chance that the cast Q&A session (which the Kennedy Center calls a “look-in”) on the afternoon of the 16th will be filmed and eventually posted to their website: they have a large video archive of similar previous events. I’ll be attending in person, but I don’t think they’ll permit me to film. 😉 But if the session is filmed by The Kennedy Center, I’ll post the details here as soon as I’m back– it’s really only fair to all the fans who can’t make it to DC that they do, so let’s hope for the best.

Uncle Vanya Earns Raves From Tough Critics

Note: This is an archived entry that’s several years old. While I have ensured that all photos are restored, some links may no longer work. If you encounter any dead links, let me know and I’ll try to find a copy of the material. Some entries may not be up to my current standards as far as photo source and other credits are concerned; if you are a photographer or writer of a piece that lacks appropriate acknowledgement, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add source info.

Hugo Weaving in Washington DC; Baltimore Sun photo

I’m thrilled to report that STC’s Uncle Vanya is being well-received, both by the theater-going public and the critics. Today the production earned passionate raves from two of the foremost papers in the country, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Times’ Ben Bratley in particular is notoriously tough and I haven’t read many 100% positive reviews from him, but he called Vanya ” three hours [that] are among the happiest of my theatergoing life.” He later adds “… the entire cast — which also includes Jacki Weaver (unrecognizable from her Oscar-nominated turn in Animal Kingdom ) as the old family nanny, Sandy Gore as Vanya’s petulant mother and Anthony Phelan as a hapless hanger-on — is close to Ms. Blanchett’s level (and in the case of Mr. Weaving, right there on it). They all give thoroughly detailed physical performances, in which you always feel both the chafe and dubious comfort of domestic intimacy.”

The Washington Post said, “…All your suppositions about Chekhov’s soulful gentility fly out the doors of the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater with this tornadic rendering of a country estate consuming itself in the misery of missed opportunities. Who says torpor isn’t a dynamic noun? In director Tamas Ascher’s inspired conception, even the bugs we hear whirring around the inhabitants’ faces are calculated to drive up the harassment index, the sense that the household is being driven to distraction by forces minuscule and monumental.”

Click on the links for the full reviews, which do contain some plot spoilers (theater critics tend to assume audiences have not only read the texts but seen multiple prior productions.) 😉

Unfortunately, no new pics of Hugo have come in yet; it’s possible he wasn’t recognized with a full beard at the opening night reception, but it’s more likely that Cate Blanchett proved too dazzling for the photographers to ignore, even for a second. Hopefully as the run continues, we’ll see more images of him in character at least. I’ll add new reviews and pics as they come in.

Hugo Weaving and Jackie Weaver in Uncle Vanya rehearsals, Sydney 2010; Sydney Morning Herald photo

Uncle Vanya Opening Night After-Party Pics

Note: This is an archived entry that’s several years old. While I have ensured that all photos are restored, some links may no longer work. If you encounter any dead links, let me know and I’ll try to find a copy of the material. Some entries may not be up to my current standards as far as photo source and other credits are concerned; if you are a photographer or writer of a piece that lacks appropriate acknowledgement, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add source info.

Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya had its formal premiere last night (August 6) at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC.  Cast members including Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh celebrated afterward at an opening night reception. I’ll add pics as they become available; these first ones are from WireImage.

L to R: Richard Roxburgh, Australian Ambassador Kim Beazley, Hugo Weaving

Hugo Weaving, Kim Beazley

Ideally, larger versions of these images will be made available soon. These are the only images of Hugo so far, but many of Cate Blanchett, Roxburgh and others may be seen at WireImage and Faded Youth. The first reviews (apart from rapturous Twitter comments) should be rolling in soon as well. Watch this space!

New Hugo Weaving Interview, Vanya Cast Pics

Note: This is an archived entry that’s several years old. While I have ensured that all photos are restored, some links may no longer work. If you encounter any dead links, let me know and I’ll try to find a copy of the material. Some entries may not be up to my current standards as far as photo source and other credits are concerned; if you are a photographer or writer of a piece that lacks appropriate acknowledgement, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add source info.

As predicted, the Uncle Vanya coverage has begun very rapidly; Washington Post has added new pics to an article (profiling the cast) that I posted links to yesterday. If you read the article then and wondered why the Photo Gallery link wasn’t working, they’ve fixed it. I’ll add the Hugo images here. But first there’s a brand new Baltimore Sun interview with Hugo, profiling the full spectrum of his work but focusing on the play. He says some things that may surprise casual fans but that will greatly endear him to longterm ones. 😉 I apologise in advance for some of the obnoxious by comments the reporter (who seems to know little about Hugo’s career beyond a few blockbusters)… one in particular is deeply insulting though meant as a poorly conceived joke… needless to say I don’t endorse that nonsense, but I’m glad Hugo is getting some press attention for the play. And of course I love the photo they included:

Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun 5 August 2011

Here’s the interview:

Hugo Weaving speaks to the Baltimore Sun
From ‘Captain America’ to ‘Uncle Vanya,’ Hugo Weaving stretches his acting chops

He’s known for his iconic fantasy roles, but he’s a classically trained thespian at heart

By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun
4:30 p.m. EDT, August 5, 2011

For actor Hugo Weaving, the distance between his farm in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles isn’t just 7,500 miles, give or take. It’s the distance between his identities as a pop culture icon and as a conservatory-trained actor who revels in the classical canon.

Both of Weaving’s faces are on prominent display in the Baltimore area this month.

As a cartoon villain with inverted facial features in a red rubber mask, Weaving is stomping around the screen in the dozens of movie theaters where “Captain America” is now showing. (Weaving portrays Cap’s nemesis, Red Skull.)

And as Astrov, a driven and outwardly cynical physician with an underlying melancholy in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” opening Saturday at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Weaving gets to make love to Cate Blanchett, who portrays Yelena.

“I kind of like the challenge of jumping into totally different spaces and styles and figuring out how to fit in,” Weaving says. “It’s great to blow the image that people have of me out of the water. It’s one of the reasons I do it.”

“Vanya” is coming to the Kennedy Center courtesy of the Sydney Theatre Company, Australia’s premier troupe, run by Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton. Washington is the show’s sole U.S. engagement.

The production follows the company’s 2009 visit to the Kennedy Center in an acclaimed production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Blanchett, who starred as Blanche DuBois, decisively laid to rest any lingering doubts about the ability of an Australian movie star to command the stage for three hours in the inhumanly demanding, quintessentially American, role.

In “Vanya” she’s cast very differently, as the bored and idle trophy wife of a Russian intellectual.

“Cate is incredibly intuitive, highly intelligent, physically free and playful,” says Weaving, noting that like all the actors in the Sydney troupe, Blanchett is classically trained.

“She has good theatrical sense, and she keeps her feet on the ground. And, of course, she’s just gorgeous.”

Bad productions of Chekhov suffer from the ailment that afflicts his characters. The shows can seem enervated, dour and depressed. Adult men and women complaining endlessly about their inability to act while gazing listlessly out the window, not unlike “Hamlet” minus the ghosts, the mad scene and the swordplay.

Tamás Ascher, the acclaimed Hungarian director and Chekhov interpreter, doesn’t want his version of “Vanya” to fall into the same trap. He has set the play in the 1950s and enlivened the proceedings with pratfalls, drunken dancing, and even a pillow fight.

“Chekhov is brutal and dark, but he also can be really funny,” says actor Richard Roxburgh, who plays the title role. “It’s quite fascinating the way he combines all those different elements, and we try to bring them all out in this production.”

That would have been a challenge under the best of circumstances, but Ascher speaks no English, and his cast, no Hungarian. Though a nimble translator helped to explain the actors’ meaning to the director, and vice-versa, there were unavoidable communication glitches.

“It was hard not being able to talk with your director about things in a text you didn’t understand,” Weaving admits.

“If you can’t quite figure out how to frame the question in your own language, you can’t figure out how to frame it in another language. There’d be times when Anna would translate what we were trying to stammer out, and Tamás would just look bewildered.”

This isn’t the first time that Blanchett and Weaving have played opposite one another — they starred in “Hedda Gabler” together on stage in New York as well as in an independent film called “Little Fish” — and it’s easy to understand his appeal as a stage partner.

With a deep tan, shaggy brown hair and overgrown beard, Weaving calls to mind the caveman from the Geico television commercials. But when a question captures his interest, Weaving leans forward and his eyes lock in with an almost audible snap. The speed and intensity with which he engages is a bit startling.

For Astrov, he’s trying to tease out the seeming contradiction between his character’s hidden depression and very real vitality.

“Astrov is a very busy man and a very clever man, but he’s so driven and exhausted by his incessant working that he thinks that he can’t love anyone,” Weaving says.

“He says he doesn’t have anything to look forward to. But he’s also visionary, soulful, and he’s a life force. The women in the play talk about Astrov’s charisma.”

Because of that duality, it’s more comfortable for an actor to live inside Astrov’s skin for an extended period of time than it would be to inhabit, say, Vanya’s.

“Luckily, Astrov doesn’t know he’s depressed,” Weaving says with a laugh. “Denial works for him.”

The same force of intellect and emotion that Weaving brings to the stage might be why directors of big budget films often cast him as the villain. Bad guys are always maniacally committed to their evil plans. They’re willing to go further than ordinary people — and so is Weaving.

Weaving is a fan of the “really funny and sharp writing” in the “Matrix” movies, where he portrays Agent Smith. But for his other big screen roles — for the Red Skull in “Captain America” as Elrond in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and as the title character in “V for Vendetta,” — he’s happiest when he can hide behind latex or stage make-up.

It makes it easier for him to avoid the cult of celebrity that he perceives to be a kind of death knell for serious actors. A performer can’t be effective, Weaving says, if his off-screen image transposes itself between the audience and the character he’s playing.

“You stop being able to create another human being,” he says. “So I rather like playing the roles of masked characters. It allows me to maintain a certain private life. People are more likely to pass me on the street without recognizing me, and that’s good.”

Though Weaving says that such big-budget fare as “Captain America” can be a lot of fun – not to mention lucrative – these movies don’t present the kind of acting challenges on which he thrives.

“I think I’ve about had enough,” he says.

“I’m not sure how many more of them I’ll make. It doesn’t feel to me as though they’ve been the majority of my work, though that’s probably the way it seems to most other people.”

Far more to his liking are small, independent films along the lines of the recently released “Oranges and Sunshine.” The Australian movie, which Weaving made with Emily Watson, tackles child deportation.

“The great thing about stage is that you have a live audience,” he says. “Your performance is never static, but you have to blow everything out because people are sitting at a distance.

“Film provides a breathing space for an actor that I’ve always loved. When the camera is in your face, it provides for a privacy and a complexity that it’s very hard to capture on stage.”

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

Here is The Washington Post’s new photo of the Vanya cast:

The cast of “Uncle Vanya,” which Blanchett calls “a historic assemblage of actors”: Bottom row: John Bell (left), Jacki Weaver, Sandy Gore, and Hugo Weaving. Top: Anthony Phelan (left), Hayley McElhinney, Andrew Tighe, Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh. The play will be at the Kennedy Center through Aug. 27.

UPDATE: Here’s a new photo, courtesy Getty Images

Photo by Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post

Note: After delays due to several LJ service interruptions, I’ve finally corrected spelling errors in the Baltimore Sun article which were alluded to in comments. Sorry this took so long! 🙂