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.
Note: There’s a sudden onslaught of breaking Hugo Weaving News this week on at least three major fronts: STC’s Uncle Vanya continues its heralded run at Lincoln Center’s City Center Theater (with new rave reviews coming out each day), Peter Jackson has released the 8th Hobbit Production Video and is making noise about turning the project into three films… and Cloud Atlas is scheduled to have its world premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival in September, as two new production stills– the first official pics from the film, were released on Entertainment Weekly’s website, and more are promised soon. So I’m at a loss over where I should start! Multiple entries will be required. Uncle Vanya first, the rest later, though that stuff might be posted first. Confused yet? Me too. It’s been a crazy, wonderful week.
Just got back from seeing Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya for the fourth time last night, and I’m trying to cobble thoughts together for a “proper” review. Somehow even four viewings of this magnificent, beautifully sad, transcendent production aren’t enough… it has a fluidity and subtle changes with each performance. Of course the major constants remain– the play is in essence a tragicomedy about thwarted lives, unrequited love and the existential crises that various characters find themselves trapped in at various life stages (the onset of adulthood for Sonya, old age for Marina, Vanya’s mother and Serebryakov, and midlife for everyone else.) There’s always a delicate balance between laughter and tears that the cast are fearless about completely tipping one way or the other– not necessarily the same way each night.
My overall impression this time was that the “larger moments” are less grandiose this time around (and the physical mechanics more shambolic and less precise by design) while the smaller moments, pauses and quiet conversations have become more essential. These actors keep looking for and finding new facets or possibilites to explore without changing their characters’ essential natures or destinies. I’m also intrigued at how different critics have interpreted key moments and lines of dialogue in completely different ways, ways which jibe with or counter my own reactions. I wonder if this is because they’ve seen a different performance, or because the nuance of each performance is so open to interpretation. Probably the latter. And I know this is grossly unfair to those who’ve only been able to go once, or who aren’t able to go at all. So, in all modesty, I’ll echo Professor Serebryakov’s words near the end, and implore the STC to DO SOMETHING. Like film this. 😉
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the play over time… if you want my initial impression after first seeing the play (rather than ponderings over how it changes over time) here’s what I dashed out after the first Kennedy Center performance. Alas, no great Stage Door stories this time… Hugo elected to exit via a different door and not do signings this time. (Jacki Weaver, Hayley McElhinney, Sandy Gore and Anthony Phelan did exit via the stage door and sign for fans on Tuesday, and were kind and convivial despite being obviously tired… people were still waiting for Cate Blachett when I had to go.) I know all of the actors have done some signing, but such events are a gift, and can never be anticipated or expected. I knew I was never going to top the experience I had after the August 16 KenCen performance last year anyhow. That’s like expecting lightning to strike in the same place twice. 😉
But one lucky fan named Rick did snap a “portroid” and get an autograph recently:
Some less-than-academic, sometimes probably-inappropriate impressions of last night’s performance: My seat was directly in front of the coffee table to stage left (house right); the play opens with Astrov sitting on the table with his back to the audience as he lackadaisically swats flies and chats with Marina (Jacki Weaver). Every time Hugo leaned forward I found it impossible to pay attention to the dialogue, making it fortunate I’d seen the play before. Also, during the second scene, when Astrov erupts drunkenly out of the side door to try to engage the self-pitying Vanya with drinking and dance, his shirt was open further than in the official performance stills and trailer (and prior performances I’d seen) and his appearance more completely disheveled, making his embarrassed apology “No tie!” when Sonya appears on the scene all the more hilarious. Finally, the final kiss between Yelea and Astrov which has provoked so much discussion was less acrobatic and climactic this time, but more sloppily naturalistic. Since earlier clenches between these characters have become more explicitly erotic, the final one seems to have been deliberately made anticlimactic. An interesting choice.
I often feel a need to defer to more professional (or at least objective) critics in analysis of Hugo’s character because it’s a bit too obvious I find Hugo attractive regardless of the circumstances. I’m always torn between finding the fangirl thing fun and worrying it’s inapprorpriate… I do think it’s fair to say Astrov is meant to be attractive (if “strange”, alcoholic and caustic) in the context of the play, given the powerful urges he inspires in Sonya and Yelena. In general the play tells us that often the most overwhelming romantic urges are often inappropriate and unrequited. This is true in life as well. 😉 Fortunately, unlike the characters in the play, I have found that “light in the forest” Astrov laments he’ll never find, ie a mutual loving relationship. (That’d be my boyfriend John, who took all those lovely KenCen photos last summer.) This helps put the fangirl thing in its place. Also, if my interest in Hugo was purely hormonal, it would have long fallen by the wayside. Still, there’s always an element of the hormonal in there somewhere. I always feel like I should apologize to Hugo on some karmic level about that. 😉 Others I’ve seen the play with have told me they related to Vanya’s existential crisis, his dawning sense that he was never going to live the sort of life he aspired toward. When I was younger, I found the play depressing and fatalistic, but now I’m at the age where I understand how true a lot of it is, how timeless, and I find a strange sense of comfort in that. The play forces one to think about all these messy emotional issues…. Probably any further pondering on that theme should go in the personal LJ. 😉
Onward to the latest Review Roundup, then!
But first another photo, of some of the Vanya cast with entertainment reporter Nelson Aspen:
L to R: Jacki Weaver, Hugo Weaving, , Richard Roxburgh, Cate Blanchett & Nelson Aspen Photo Source: Sunrise on 7 Tumblr
Aspen is promising his cast interviews will air (and, hopefully, be posted online) this weekend, as Vanya’s New York run comes to a close. Now to those review excerpts:
Adam Green, Vogue: “Sydney Theatre Company’s Vanya, which opened on Saturday night at New York City Center, with a cast of top-notch Aussies led by the magnificent Cate Blanchett. In life, as in Chekhov, laughter and tears are separated by the thinnest of lines…[Blanchett deploys] an astonishing performance that is part Grace Kelly, part Charlie Chaplin, and guaranteed to break your heart. Interpretations of Chekhov tend to be lopsided, either shrouding the comedy in a heavy veil of despair or whistling past the tragedy in a boffo dash for yuks. But this Vanya, adapted by Blanchett’s husband (and co-artistic director of the STC) Andrew Upton, and staged with acrobatic élan by the Hungarian director Tamás Ascher, gets it just right, proving that the playwright wasn’t kidding when he described his work as farce. Sure, this snapshot of spiritual ennui, thwarted love, and squandered lives in the Russian provinces is a downer. But as performed by Blanchett and Co. it is also raucously, painfully funny. Lassitude has never been this exhilarating…. Here, there is no such thing as grace, either physical or spiritual, and when these characters fall in love, they literally fall—over themselves and into each other, not to mention any piece of furniture that might get in the way. One minute, Weaving’s Astrov is ruefully saying, ‘In principle I love life, but this particular one?’; the next, under the spell of Blanchett’s Yelena, he’s tumbling out the window….Watch her, in her final scene, as she says goodbye to Weaving’s Astrov, with whom she has fallen in love, hurl herself at him like a feral cat and wrap her legs around his waist, kissing him hungrily, only to fling herself away and tumble across the floor as if propelled by an electric shock. It’s a bravura moment of low comedy. But take a look at the unbearable sadness that briefly crosses her face as she composes herself, and the laughter catches in your throat. If you’ve ever wondered what people mean when they call something ‘Chekhovian,’this is it.”
Scott Brown, Stage Dive/Vulture.Com: “”Renowned Chekhovist Tamás Ascher directs Cate Blanchett and a company of A-list Aussies from the Sydney Theatre Company in a grand new production at the Lincoln Center Festival. Richard Roxburgh, in full Prufrockian seethe, is our Vanya, a pouty clown with India-rubber reflexes, totally doomed yet damned bouncy about it. (If you’re looking for the polar opposite of Reed Birney’s tragic-sweater grumpy-gus at Soho Rep, this performance is likely it.) Hugo Weaving strikes minimalist-comedy gold as the Saturnine Dr. Astrov, and Blanchett is their mutual obsession, bored, beautiful, and badly married Yelena. (Serpentine in a series of stunning dresses, Blanchett purposefully wrong-foots her regal, ravishing poise again and again — she’s a genuinely gifted physical comedienne, and her key tipsy scene with Hayley McElhinney’s open-hearted Sonya is a comic mini-ballet.)… I, for one, found the whole thing bracing, as if someone had thrown open a window and let out the miasma of arthritic Chekhovs past, the productions you accrue over the years from bad college productions and RSI (repertory stress injury).”
Sarah Montague, WNYC Culture: “There are many definitions of comedy, and one is when circumstances are ripe for tragedy, but it fails to materialize. Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov’s tale of disappointed love and disappointed lives on a declining country estate, is a comedy….Each main character, in turn, expresses his/her anguish and frustration. Each regrets a wasted past and glimpses a fulfilling future just out of reach. Ascher’s instinct is to subvert the potential bathos of these utterances with a robust sense of the ridiculous—speeches are made from astride the furniture; people tumble through doors and out of windows; Vanya tries to cudgel his brother-in-law with a wilted bouquet of flowers. Sometimes, however, the manic pace carries us past the heart-rending equilibrium of hopelessness that is the essential core of this work….It is a tribute to the bright Sydney cast that they manage to honor both Ascher’s interpretation (of a lively adaptation by Andrew Upton) and something elusive beyond the constraints of the production…Hugo Weaving’s Astrov has the uneven charm of a visionary (or “crank”) for whom the world is not quite ready. (Indeed, he is uncannily prescient—his speeches on the systematic depredation of the landscape could have been penned by the Environmental Defense Fund). He throws his languid, tapering body in and out of the furniture, at peace, ironically, only when he is drawing topographical maps that show the erosion of the countryside. He maintains that he is unable to love, and even his passion for Yelena feels like an attitude he is trying on….My first Uncle Vanya was Michael Redgrave, in the legendary 1963 production. I remember him as stifled. In contrast, Richard Roxburgh has unbottled everything that Redgrave suppressed. He seems literally unable to contain himself, with roving hands that tug at his scalp as if hoping to let the demons out. He knows he is foolish, and splenetic, and yet the note of longing as he describes the life he’s missed out on pulls you into an undertow of sympathy and dread…In the closing scene, Vanya is finally still—an automaton taking up again the household accounts. ‘We must live,’ says Sonya, to whom Chekhov has turned over the play. It is not a consoling end—live, labor, and only then ‘rest.’ But it has dignity, and grace, and cannot be laughed at.”
Roma Torre, NY1: “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…Unrequited love infects just about all of the characters in this unhappy household and the actors play their parts to the hilt…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.”
Robert Feldberg, North Jersey
: “The presentation, part of the Lincoln Center Festival, flirts with farce, but never crosses the line. The characters’ swoops and lunges, their pratfalls, the moments when they pull the covers over their heads, suggest discomfort as the great human comedy…Played by Richard Roxburgh with a combination of passion, bitterness and goofiness, Vanya is an oddly touching figure, even as he keeps moaning about how life has passed him by…Astrov, the alcoholic, motorcycle-riding local doctor, [is] portrayed with a certain dash by Hugo Weaving. Sonya[‘s] deep but hopeless feeling is rendered with an affecting mix of girlishness and dignity by Hayley McElhinney… Although Blanchett is the production’s big name, this is truly an ensemble piece, with everyone blending in a single universe and the evening’s impact coming both from individual performances and the characters’ interactions.”
Frank Scheck, Scheck On Theater: “The Sydney Theatre Company’s new Uncle Vanya being presented by the Lincoln Center Festival is a triumphant rendition that thankfully highlights the humor of the classic play while not neglecting its pathos. In the hands of this talented company headed by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett as Yelena, ennui and bitter disappointment have never been so entertaining…The characters may be as bored, lovestruck and dissatisfied with their lives as ever, but here the play–which in lesser hands can seem depressingly lugubrious–has taken on vibrant life…The evening is anchored by the galvanizing presence of the luminous, long-limbed Blanchett, whose Yelena displays a devastating eroticism that is only accentuated by her tense awkwardness…Weaving, familiar to American audiences through his memorable appearances in such films as The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is a particularly dashing Astrov, making his appeal to both Yelena and the forlorn Sonya more than credible…Among the superb ensemble, standouts include McElhinney’s sensitive but steel-willed Sonya and a virtually unrecognizable Jacki Weaver (Oscar nominated for Animal Kingdom) as the elderly nanny, Marina.”
John Keith, The JK Review: “The performances are, of course, what truly make this show fantastic. Blanchett naturally commands the audience’s attention—as well as the attention of her leading men—through her effortlessly comedic blocking and dramatically-delivered dialogue. Although Yelena is tempted by the doctor, she plays the good wife and refuses to give in to infidelity. Vanya, conversely, yearns to be with Yelena. Roxburgh captures the character’s desire for her along with his general desire to do something with his life (this country estate has the uncanny ability to stagnate people’s lives)….Weaving’s alcoholic Astrov and McElhinny’s naïve Sonya give such superb performances that you forget the story is named after her Uncle Vanya. Sandy Gore’s Maria and Jacki Weaver’s Marina easily elicit laughs from the audience in their smaller roles, as well. All of the cast give solid and engaging performances that you almost forget these Russian people have Australian accents….The entirety of this production is superb (even the set designed by Zsolt Khell is outstanding). Come explore Chekhov’s themes of unhappiness and frustration of the wasted life (Yelena even declares, ‘You only live once!’; and you will leave the show wanting to go out and do something.”
There are four days and five performances left in Uncle Vanya’s New York run. I hope many of you are able to to get tickets. I’m trying to go again myself. Yes, I’m quite addicted. A family member who didn’t quite get why I had to see this particular production so many times asked “Why?” I started by avoiding the obvious, “Duh! Hugo Weaving! Cate Blanchett! Richard Roxburgh! etc!”– I should note that Richard Roxburgh and Hayley McElhinney do most of the emotional heavy lifting in the play. Hugo and Cate dazzle and intrigue, and offer the same sort of overpowering distractions within the context of the story that they do in many of our lives. But the play is about Vanya and Sonya, and how they try to carry on after these distractions. Instead, my response was: “Well, how many times have you seen your favorite movie? I bet it’s more than five times. Now imagine you were actually watching the actors perform it in front of you, and it was a little different each time you saw it.”
Cate Blanchett has talked in the past about how theatre is a living organism to her, how it can be ephemeral and evolving. Hugo has said he finds Chekhov “elusive” and “unpredictable” , “…discovering things and then losing some moments, then you can’t worry about that, and then sometimes they float back.” (from his Elissa Blake interview earlier this year.) I’ve teared up and laughed every time I’ve gone, but never quite at the same moments each time. Yes, the ending is always powerful, but sometimes the overriding impression is one of despair and resignation, other times of acceptance, even hope. I know if the production is filmed, that elusive, chimerical quality will be lost, so i’m grabbing the theatrical experience while I can. (They should still film it, though!) 😉 Film, of course, has its own joys and mysteries to offer. Which should segue neatly into the next Hugonuts post about Cloud Atlas and The Hobbit (maybe a little on Mystery Road, too…)