Daily Archives: July 23, 2012

Uncle Vanya Review Roundup, More Hugo Weaving Photos

Note: This is an archived entry that’s over two 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.

Reviews for Uncle Vanya at Lincoln Center keep arriving, and all are wildly enthusiastic.  I’ll be heading into New York for tomorrow night’s performance and am trying to get tickets for later in the week… who knows when we’ll have another opportunity like this? People who can attend Sydney Theatre Company regular season in Sydney are lucky beyond belief. Cate Blanchett has already hinted in several interviews that she’s eager to return to the New York stage under the right circumstances. It’s unknown if the STC will tour Hugo’s recent production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses or next year’s Waiting for Godot (which isn’t officially confirmed for Sydney yet… patience, patience!) 😉 But the reception of Vanya can only bode well for further international outreach from this dynamic theater company.

There are a few new photos from July 21st’s Opening Night Reception, which I’ll add between review excerpts; as always, click on the links for the full text.

Hugo Weaving at the opening night party for ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the New York City Center, July 21, 2012 Photo: Contact Music (no photographer credit given)

Elisabeth Vincentelli The New York Post: “It’s not often that a Chekhov play is almost drowned by laughter….Yet that’s exactly what happens at the Sydney Theatre Company’s “Uncle Vanya,” which just opened at City Center as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Director Tamás Ascher and his pitch-perfect cast, led by Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, understand that characters who are so miserable, so uncomfortable with themselves, are as comical as they are touching….Ascher underlines the darkly humorous side of this stereotypically Russian existential distress. At times, it feels downright sacrilegious, especially in the free-flowing adaptation by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband): How dare they make fun of all this serious stuff!
But the show cleverly has it both ways. It has obvious affection for the characters while showing they’re stuck in a rut.”

Mildly Bitter’s Musings: “From witty direction, to a comedic and revelatory adaptation, to stunning and heart-breaking performances by Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, and Hayley McElhinney, this Australian offering, which is part of the Lincoln Center Festival, brings a bounty of theatrical treats to the New York stage…By the end of the play I just wanted to lay down at the altar of Richard Roxburgh and be slayed because frankly I’ll never see anything as good as that again. At all times, he appeared to be teetering on a tiny ledge between laughter and tears…Weaving… was great as the object of Yelena’s affections. [T]he wooing scene between Astrov and Yelena with all of Blanchett’s frenetic energy was steamy even without touching. Weaving managed to exude sexual prowess even if the topic of the conversation was trees. Never has deforestation been so erotic… Hungarian director Tamás Ascher stages the play with incredible wit… his production constantly takes moments of lightness and juxtaposes them against moments of real devastation. The tragedy becomes richer because it is played for laughs. Nothing in these characters lives is remotely funny but with the sardonic edge in Upton’s adaptation, the smart direction and the consummate professionals interpreting these characters the dark comedy is perfectly delivered. The director and writer have trusted the audience will understand the tragedy without having to “play” it for tragedy. It’s a refreshing approach even if you’ll be sobbing by the end. Good tears, well-earned.”

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Hugo Weaving at July 21 Uncle Vanya Opening Night Party from Rex Features Photos: Carolyn Contino

Jee Leong Koh, Song of a Reformed Headhunter: “The cast was uniformly strong. John Bell played Serebryakov, Cate Blanchett Yelena, Hayley McElhinney Sonya, Richard Roxburgh Vanya, Hugo Weaving Astrov. There were no obvious ‘stars.’ All was bent to the service of the play. If Blanchett looked physically the part of the beautiful young wife, she was also emotionally convincing as a woman who was bored with serving a petulant and hypochondriac husband and so was tempted by adultery. Uncle Vanya, voluble in his self-pity, could be highly irritating, but Roxburgh gave him a winning vulnerability. When he walked in on Yelena and Astrov kissing, his pain was palpable as the bunch of roses that he held.”

Andy Propst, Theater Mania: “[T]hanks to an exceptional company, headed by Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh, this show simply stuns from beginning to end as this bittersweet comedy, intriguingly reset in what seems to be 1950s Russia, unfolds….Roxburgh’s performance carries a flair that elevates the title character to an unusually high intellectual and emotional plane. Thanks to the actor’s nuanced interpretation, audiences genuinely feel that Vanya’s regrets about having spent his life tending to the estate to subsidize the professor’s career have a validity to them….Moreover, when Weaving’s charismatic, spiky and yet, somehow emotionally disconnected Astrov says that he and Vanya are “the only two decent, intelligent men in the district,” audiences cannot help but concur. Both actors also share a distinctly volcanic chemistry with Blanchett, particularly Weaving — whose work opposite her has a steamy awkwardness to it that’s as tantalizing as it is humorous….Further, when Astrov waxes eloquent about the forests that he’s committed to preserving for generations to come, Weaving’s performance has a remarkably zealous incandescence, which is ironically undercut by Ascher’s choice to set the play at the height of the Cold War. One can’t help but sense with sadness the almost impossibility of Astrov’s vision for the future, knowing the hardships that lie in wait for the characters and the world.”

Linda Winer, Newsday: “Just as Chekhov, bless him, understood how desperation and exhilaration roil together in everyday human tragicomedy, Ascher makes the contradictions visible in split-second moments of physical outrageousness — as though, for a moment, we have X-ray vision into the violent hungers beneath the civilized words….Blanchett is elegantly aloof, dressed like an Italian movie star and genuinely funny as Yelena, the languorous, dangerously bored younger wife of an aged, self-important professor whose move from the city disrupts the tedium of the struggling estate. Richard Roxburgh’s Vanya is so provocatively likable that we mourn with him for his wasted drone of a life, while Hugo Weaving exquisitely manages debonair hysteria as Astrov, the idealistic doctor….Who knew how many different kinds of hugs can separate and define human behavior? There is something so delicious about watching three such attractive characters — in fact, watching all these acutely-etched characters by this first-rate company — fly so desperately out of control.”

Photo by Joseph Mazullo/WENN (Possibly the source for the Contact Music photo!) 😉 More WENN cast photos at Playbill.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: “Vanya describes Yelena as a goddess, beautiful and untouchable. Blanchett in slinky gowns — cream in the first act, scarlet in the second — fits the bill…. The fleet adaptation is by Blanchett’s husband and co- company head, Andrew Upton. Tamas Ascher’s free-wheeling staging of the play, moves Chekhov’s end-of-the-last-century Russia to the Soviet era. Ascher introduces scenes with what sound like the scores from 1940s cartoons and opera recordings….This Hungarian director takes Chekhov at his word when he called his moody melodramas of unrequited love and mournful lives comedies. There’s some slapstick silliness, and the star proves herself adept at physical comedy… Richard Roxburgh plays Vanya in a raffish, libidinous performance of bottled rage that turns deeply moving when he finally explodes…Plain-jane Sonya (Hayley McElhinney, in a nuanced, restrained performance) is unknowingly competing with her step- mother for the attention of Astrov (rakishly sensitive Hugo Weaving)… Sonya doesn’t stand a chance against Yelena, whose frustration has made her wily, any more than Vanya can compete with the comparatively suave doctor… And so this ‘comedy’ ends in a way that predicts Samuel Beckett, with deep-rooted characters in existential paralysis.”

Matt Windman AM NY: “Tamas Ascher’s richly detailed production, which is updated to the Soviet Union of the 1950s, proves to be engaging and accessible. It can even be very funny, thanks to some clever bits of staging. In one terrific moment, Blanchett throws a blanket over herself to drown out the wailings of Richard Roxburgh, who stands out as a wildly theatrical Vanya….The statuesque Blanchett is made to contrast directly with the grim, deteriorated surroundings of the country estate – where holes have even been punched through the walls – and the rest of the cast, which is dressed in particularly slovenly costumes.”

Melissa Rose Bernardo, EW.com: “There’s something rather funny about the Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya…  fans may not remember Astrov (Hugo Weaving) as a badass leather-clad doctor zooming around on a motorcycle from one plague-ridden peasant to another, but Hungarian director Tamás Ascher has set his Vanya in the 1950s — which also explains Cate Blanchett’s Grace Kelly–meets–Marilyn Monroe costumes. No, the really funny thing is, as it turns out, Chekhov himself… Tamas Ascher knows that depression doesn’t have to be a total downer: He’s turned glamazon Yelena’s bonding scene with her ”plain” stepdaughter Sonya (a sensational Hayley McElhinney) into a giggly vodka-soaked slumber party, pillow fight and all. He sends a drunken Astrov tumbling butt-first out a window into a rainstorm. (Turns out Weaving is a surprisingly gifted physical comedian — as is Blanchett, who does a dynamite drunk scene.)…Yet even as the production inserts a few extra comic elements, Ascher doesn’t gloss over the play’s tragic undertow. He actually enhances it. There are still empty, aching voids: Vanya forlornly gazing at Yelena like a lovesick teenager from across the room; simmering stews of anger, as when Yelena shuns her cruel, crotchety old husband, Serebryakov (John Bell); emotionally charged silences as desperately-in-love Sonya enjoys a midnight snack with a completely oblivious Astrov. Chekhov is always about what’s left unsaid; never has his subtext been so explicit as in this superb production.

Photo: Carolyn Contino, BEImages; For high res version and more cast photos, go to Broadway World

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: “Boredom becomes Cate Blanchett. Playing the listless love magnet Yelena in “Uncle Vanya,” the 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…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….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.” (5 Stars)

Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: “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.”

Review compilations and coverage can be read at The LA Times, The Age, and Curtain Critic (which claims this production is the highest-rated in the history of their site). More to come, including my personal review. 😉