Tag Archives: John Bell

Uncle Vanya’s Final Night (w/video interviews, autograph story), Hobbit Trilogy

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.

Once again I’m faced with such a massive pile of Hugo Weaving news/stories to share that I don’t know where to start. So I’ll lead with a few Breaking News items then go ahead with a massive Vanya-themed entry. I was lucky enough to see the production at City Center again, though my seats were further back (not complaining a bit… sometimes the conversations are better in the cheap(er) seats.) 😉 Also got a nice souvenir from Hugo, which I’ll discuss soon.

But the Hugo-related story that the internet is buzzing about most right now is the confirmation direct from Peter Jackson that The Hobbit will, indeed, become a trilogy:

“It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. Recently Fran, Phil and I did just this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first movie – and a large chunk of the second. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’…We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth….So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.”

Warner Bros. also issued a full press release about added filming (which can be read in its entirety at Comingsoon.net). The third film will be released in summer 2014. The second and third films are now being referenced without names, so PJ may opt to move the subtitle “There and Back Again” to the final installment, but nothing is official yet on that front. (I suppose they could call the second one The Hobbit: Are We There Yet?) 😉 Also no word yet on whether Hugo will appear in all three films. Since chunks of would would have been the second film are probably going to be moved to the third for structural/dramatic reasons, anything is possible. Hugo is mentioned in the press release cast, but there’s no breakdown of which actors will appear in which films. When Hugo last spoke about The Hobbit (with the New York Post) he didn’t specifically address the issue of the third film, so we’ll have to wait for further details. TheOneRing.net remains the most reliable source for any breaking news on this project.  There’s also an interesting look at Andy Serkis getting into character as Gollum (from a forthcoming issue of Empire) on E!Online.

There are a couple of new stories about the ongoing filming of Mystery Road (nothing specific about Hugo’s role) at Deadline and The Reel Bits. (Note: LJ STILL won’t let me post direct links to Deadline for some reason, so here it is in raw form: http://www.deadline [dot] com/2012/07/greenlight-releasing-is-a-go-in-australia/. And I’m sorry this continues to be a technical issue.)

There’s another eloquent review of Last Ride’s American release at Keeping It Reel.

Now to Uncle Vanya… (takes a deep breath)… Sydney Theatre Company’s increasingly-legendary production closed in New York Saturday night amid a final flurry of press coverage, new interviews and rave reviews. First I’ll post all the official stuff, then I’ll tell my long and probably rambling story of attending that final performance.

Two shiny new videos have surfaced: one is an Weekend Sunrise interview that entertainment reporter held with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh and Jacki Weaver earlier in the week, which aired Sunday in Australia. The second is coverage of Gotham Magazine’s party and features interviews with Cate and Richard… unfortunately, we don’t hear much from Hugo in either clip, though we see him. He’s been much quieter on this tour than he has on some, letting Blanchett and Roxburgh handle most of the press. (He’s also avoided the Stage Door most nights, though he was still polite to fans who did manage to approach him.)

IN THE MIXX Show: Interview with Cate Blanchett from Beto Vargas on Vimeo.

I suspect Hugo was probably interviewed at lest briefly for the Nelson Aspen piece, but his comments were edited out for brevity (Cate, Richard and especially Jacki Weaver are better at piquant soundbites than he is.)

There’s also a new ABC Radio podcast (Books and Arts Daily) featuring an extensive interview with New York Times’ critic Ben Brantley, who’s given this production over-the-moon raves in both Washington DC and New York, and enthuses a bit more here. (As a regular Times reader, I know this level of enthusiasm is rare for him.) Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh also add comments. There are lot of interesting insights about Chekhov and the challenge of staging his plays– and keeping them fresh– for modern audiences.

I told myself back in March, when tickets first went on sale, that I’d plan ahead and put all the money I’d saved to see the play for the best possible seats I could afford for one performance. I’d already seen it three times last summer in Washington DC, and had one of the most memorable months of my life in the process, including the sort of chat with Hugo a fan dreams of. Since there were only eleven performances in New York the prices would be higher and demand greater, so I staked everything on one set of tickets and got incredible fourth row Orchestra seats for July 24. I’ve already told you about that experience. It was astonishing. The actors and play continue to provoke and inspire me in ways few artistic endeavours do, particularly over multiple viewings. But was it enough? Of course not! 😉

I was lucky enough to scrape together funds for a couple of seats at the final performance on July 28. A fan with one decent seat in the Grand Tier/front Mezzanine section who was unable to go at the last minute sold me her seat, and I got another further back directly fro the City Center site. Then came the logistics of taking more time off, etc. Somehow it all worked out.

[Once I have this written up and posted, I’ll add in any new photos taken of the cast in New York that I haven’t shared previously… Roxburgh fan Andy4Ita tipped me to more Gotham Party photos online. So you should consider early versions of this post a “rough draft”.] 😉

Hugo at the Uncle Vanya opening night cast party, 21 July 2012; Photo: Carolyn Contino/BEImages

I wasn’t able to bring my boyfriend John this time– I did invite him, but he has too much to do. So I don’t have any new photos of my own.   Also, the omnipresence of paparazzi and professional autograph hounds really put a damper on Stage Door activity… the actors were less likely to linger and chat with fans because “professionals” were always on hand sticking their cameras in the actors’ faces and asking them to sign a sheaf of glossy movie photos to be sold on eBay later. Under the circumstances I really can’t blame Hugo and Cate for avoiding the Stage Door and being increasingly creative in getting into and out of the theater each night. In Washington DC, Hugo and Richard Roxburgh lingered an chatted with fans at the stage door (at Kennedy Center) nearly every night. There was a relaxed atmosphere and conviviality that led to a lot of special moments for fans. There were no paparazzi there, and I only saw professional autograph hawkers once (Hugo and Richard were polite with them, but you could see their expressions darken.)

That conviviality was an impossibility in New York, where paparazzi staked out the Stage Door before and after every performance and often followed Cate Blanchett every time she left her hotel.  Cate did stop to sign for fans a few times, and I understand why she avoids doing so most of the time– she was here with three young children, and wants them to lead as normal a life as possible. Hugo and Richard found an alternate door out of the theater, and used this most nights. But they did kindly stop and sign for anyone who approached them, fan or “professional”. In general, Hugo seemed quieter and more contained on this visit than he has in the past. No fans who did get autographs reported him saying much, and he seems to have given only one brief interview. (Contrast this with the abundance of lengthy interviews he gave promoting Last Ride.) I can’t say this is because of the sometimes-oppressive paparazzi or because he has an incredible number of projects on his plate right now and is trying to juggle those, media coverage and a physically demanding three-hour role every night.  At any rate, he certainly deserves some time to decompress right now and be left alone, and I hope he’s able to find that. I constantly struggle with the notion of how to be a “good fan”, and not be part of the problem. Hugo is usually lovely to fans and generous in letting us approach and share a few minutes with him. I hope he never feels intruded on or oppressed by fan attention, and that under most circumstances, the paparazzi leave him alone. I wouldn’t want moments like those in Washington to become a thing of the past.

Hugo attends Gotham Magazine Cover party July 25: Photo: Andres Otero/Everett Collection

Anyhow, we arrived in New York at around 4.30pm in a torrential downpour. After parking, I collected the tickets at the box office and we looked for a place to sit and relax until the theater opened. The family member who came along ensconced herself in the Au Ban Pain near the City Center’s front door after an initial stroll around the block, and announced she’d be staying there until the doors opened. I quickly started feeling the rush of nervous energy I’d felt back on Tuesday, and couldn’t sit still.

Fortunately the rain cleared up quickly. I was still pondering whether or not to have a try at the Stage Door, and if so, when. This would be the final day of performances, and there was a matinee as well as the nightly 7.30 show. I suspected there might be some sort of cast party after the evening performance, or that the cast would be greeted by celebrity fans backstage, as tends to happen on opening and closing nights. (This is documented in the In The Company of Actors doc, about the 2006 BAM production of Hedda Gabler.) There might be more paparazzi around than usual for this reason. I wanted to avoid them, and avoid being part of an insurmountable throng that might be waiting after the final performance, so I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to try and get Hugo’s autograph as he went into the theater rather than afterward, when he’s been through two exhausting performances and would have VIP guests and possibly a cast party… also, the weather still looked ominous and I didn’t want to chance being caught in the rain later.

Since there had been absolutely no one around the first time I’d checked the Stage Door, I returned to the area at 6pm. This time there were a couple of Cate Blanchett fans who were hoping to pass her something in a manila envelope (I never found out what.) and maybe get signed. None of the actors had yet gone into the theater. I immediately became aware of one major flaw in my strategy: if any of the other actors did stop to sign for fans, I didn’t have anything for them to sign– I couldn’t go inside the theater to get a program yet (and hadn’t brought the one I’d obtained on Tuesday.) But… I was there for Hugo, and had gotten some of the other cast members to sign for me last August, so I decided just watching the others go into the theater would be enough. (And it was, despite the complication I’m about to get to.)

Hugo at the Vanya Opening Night Party 21 July Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN

It quickly became apparent that we fans weren’t alone… there were a pair of paparazzi photographers lurking in the shadows under the eves nearby, talking strategy. My first impulse was to flee, but I guessed they’d probably be on hand later too, and there might be other complications later. I wasn’t sure then and remain unsure now if I did the right thing. At least at this point there weren’t any other autograph seekers waiting, and it was calm and peaceful. The Cate fans chatted with the paparazzi, asking if they could be included in any photographs taken. I avoided the conversation. I hoped Cate was their only target, and they’d leave after she went in. I didn’t want to be photographed, nor for any moment I might share with him to be intruded on that way. (When my boyfriend took pictures of Hugo last summer, he asked first, and promised none of the images would be used for personal profit.)

Over the next half hour, Sandy Gore went in and left the theater. Then I saw Hugo walking down the opposite side of the street toward the cast’s hotel. I kept this to myself, and no one else noticed. Then, at around 6.30, Cate Blanchett appeared, without any guards or “personnel” and crossed the street, striding quickly toward the Stage Door entrance. She was unmistakable and radiant even in the distance, and it was impossible not to be a bit star-struck. She was wearing a striking beige, black and orange-patterned dress and sunglasses. She noticed us but didn’t stop and mounted the stairs with a calm sense of purpose. One of the fans walked over and started talking and handing Cate the manila envelope at the same time. Cate took it, smiled beautifully and said, “I’m sorry, I really have to go now!”… and was gone. As this happened, one of the photographers whipped their massive lens right over my shoulder and started clicking away. I was a bit appalled, but also in awe of Cate, so I just froze.

After she was gone, the photographers were celebrating their luck, one telling the fan: “She took something! She usually never stops at all! You got her to smile!” So apparently he got his money shot. The Cate fans chatted with the photographers awhile longer, asked for contact details in case they were in any photos and then left, still basking in the glow of their experience. I don’t want to sound angry at them… I know we were all in a morally grey area by just being there, and it’s a normal human impulse to have moments like that documented. I have my own opinions about who should do the documenting, and think permission should be gained first. I know there wouldn’t be paparazzi in the first place if there was no market hungry for those kinds of photos. I was now waiting alone, though the photographers debated whether to stay and “get Hugo again” or not. My feet were starting to hurt (I was wearing dress shoes for the first time in ages, and these were a very old pair that looked great with my dress, but cut into my feet.) I was having very mixed feelings about being there but decided to stay the course, thinking it might be my best chance… though I made myself promise I’d never do it this way again.

Just when I was in the middle of my moral quandary, I noticed a figure approaching, a man walking his dog down the sidewalk. I was startled to recognize that it was Michael Emerson, one of my favorite actors. One of my other favorite actors. He was casually dressed in a white shirt and grey slacks, walking a tiny, inquisitive grey terrier. I tried not to stare but probably couldn’t help myself. I moved further to the side as he passed. I smiled at him a little and he smiled back. I thought it best not to ruin the moment by saying anything. The dog scurried over and sniffed my shoes. I thought seriously about taking off the shoes and offering them to the dog for chewing, piddling on, or any other sort of doggy enjoyment he could get out of them, but of course didn’t say any of those things aloud. The photographers snapped a few pictures as he passed. He seemed familiar with this bunch and made a few friendly but sharp-edged comments to them (I wish I could remember precisely what) before continuing on his way.

At first I thought he might be going to the evening performance, but then I realized, no, no one would bring their dog along to the theater… unless it was a service dog (I did see a pair at the Tuesday performance.) This probably wasn’t a service dog, and Emerson lives in New York, and seemed to be in that care-free zen state dog walkers get into. No, I’d just coincidentally seen my second favorite character actor on earth happen to walk down the street as I happened to be waiting for an opportunity to see my first. My first thought was that sometimes the universe laughs with us instead of at us. 😉 My second thought was of how many dogs I’d walked (one of my three part time jobs) to finance this trip. Then the paranoid part of my brain– the Old Georgie part– wondered if maybe Hugo hadn’t arranged the whole thing so he could sneak in unnoticed as Michael Emerson distracted me. But on the whole I felt a bit more at peace.

But no, no one had entered in those couple of minutes. Soon, Sandy Gore, Anthony Phelan, Andrew Tighe and Jacki Weaver arrived and went in; no one approached them. Weaver noticed us and smiled and waved as she went in. (She’s been the most generous in giving autographs and interacting with fans this tour– and is one of the most entertaining cut-ups on earth.) It was almost 7pm (with a 7.30 curtain) when Richard Roxburgh arrived. A few fans approached him for autographs, which he signed before hurrying inside. (I never saw Hayley McElhinney or John Bell that afternoon). Then several more minutes passed.

If I’d had any idea Hugo would arrive so late, I probably would’ve rethought my strategy and tried my luck post-show with everyone else. I knew that, this late, conversation of any kind would be an impossibility, and he’d be exceedingly generous to stop at all. Finally, at 7.10 pm I saw him approaching from down the street, walking with purpose and determination. My heart started racing and I steeled my nerves. I’d held about a million conversations with him in my head over the past several days and I sorted through all the things I might say– that the play was one of the more significant things he’d done, and had been profoundly meaningful. That the Cloud Atlas trailer surpassed my every expectation and I couldn’t wait to see the film an what further roles he might have in it. I had brought along my ancient, dogeared copy of the published Proof script because Proof was the first Hugo Weaving film I’d ever seen, twenty years ago. (There is a crazy story about how I decided to bring along this particular item, which is full of all sorts of cosmic irony of its own, but I’ll save that for the personal LJ, lest this story grow ever longer and more convoluted…)

As he approached closer, I decided maybe I could say Proof was the first film of his I’d ever seen and thus it held special significance for me… but not much more beyond that. There wasn’t time. I clumsily muttered “Hugo, could you please…” as he saw the book and pen; he took them. He was climbing the Stage Door steps at this point but stopped and looked at the book (I’d opened to a photo page at the middle without thinking too much about it). He scrutinized the book and turned it sideways, his eyes widening, then he signed down the side of the photo. I as about to say something when a man suddenly broke in from behind me, thrusting his Playbill at Hugo and talking about how he’d attended Opening Night and blah, blah blah. I silently took the signed script back from Hugo, thanked him profusely and slipped away. (I don’t want to be too obnoxious about the other autograph seeker, but he had intruded on my Hugo Moment a little. I always wait my turn and avoid talking over or interrupting signings in progress — I’m shy by nature and will avoid talking over anyone else at all costs.) I understand it was an imposition of us to ask for autographs so close to the curtain call in the first place, so on the whole I felt extraordinarily lucky.

[Don’t worry: Ugly the Cat later recovered in the film. In the original script version, Martin adopted him.] 😉

So no, I didn’t “top” my experience last August at Kennedy Center… I probably never will. It’s impossible to quantify these sorts of things anyhow. I didn’t get any photos or conversation this time– nor did anyone else, as Hugo had someplace important to be. I’m more than happy with my autograph and meaningful look. I hope Hugo understood the significance of the whole thing for me, the things I didn’t have time or opportunity to say. I know that on a certain level, actors and other artists are never going to understand the inner journeys fans have gone on, or the specific inspiration their work has given us. They create art for their own reasons, sometimes equally mysterious or inexpressible. I always try to select objects of special significance the few times I muster up the audacity to ask an artist to sign something. (95% of the time, I don’t try. Just experiencing their work is enough.) I try to pick something of little or no monetary value on the resale market, but of deep symbolic importance to me.  Ideally this can lead to lovely little conversations, but such opportunities are rare. And often, other fans will understand more than the artist would anyhow.

So… it was a beautiful experience. One I’ll probably never repeat now that I know the potential complications and moral thickets. I hope I didn’t impose too much or cross any lines. I’m grateful for what I got to experience, but in the future I’ll try to adhere more closely to the unspoken rules, ie to wait at the stage door after performances and take my chances. The actors should always have the choice to avoid such interaction if they’re tired, busy or simply want some privacy. The fact that Hugo will patiently stop and sign even so late, will put up with us, is a gesture of utmost generosity, but we shouldn’t ask it of him too often. (And fans and paparazzi should never, ever, under any circumstances stake out an actor’s hotel, or approach them when they’re on their own time, especially with their families. This crosses the line into stalking. Also– don’t buy autographs on eBay or from other vendors. A lot of them are fake, and in doing so, you encourage professional autograph sellers to erode the Stage Door experience.) Anyhow, I offer karmic apologies to Hugo for any lines I may have crossed myself. Sometimes the fangirl loves not wisely, but too well. 😉

But I was verging on giddy as I finally made my way into the theater at 7.15. Since it was so late, we immediately headed to our seats. I didn’t see many of the celebrities I later learned were in attendance (which included renowned Cate fan Meryl Streep); anyhow, our seats were upstairs in the mezzanine area, not the Celebrity Section– ie the Front Orchestra. I’d already been fortunate enough (well, and I’d given Lincoln Center a month’s wages) to sit there on Tuesday, so I didn’t feel too bad. And I had a seat in the third row of the Mezzanine (which is confusingly called the Mezzanine in back and Grand Tier in front, though they’re all the same– second– level. The Balcony is the third.) I did briefly spot Maggie Gyllenhaal crossing the lobby– I wasn’t even sure it was her at the time, but other fans on hand confirmed it. Her husband Peter Sarsgaard was apparently there too, but I didn’t see him. I did see Enrique Murciano (of Without a Trace and CSI fame) as I waited in line at the bar. But that was it for accidental celebrity sightings, and frankly nothing was going to top the sheer coincidental bliss of the Michael Emerson sighting. Perhaps it was the work of the Dog Walker Gods. 😉

Anyhow… one often gets into much more interesting conversations in the cheap seats. Well, the cheaper seats. I was seated between a French-speaking father and son and an elderly couple of theater veterans eager to compare this production of Vanya to the many others they’d seen. In front of us were a gay couple in adorable, matching gingham shirts, and a larger group of Russians who seemed to be enjoying the experience immensely. (It made me wonder how much I’d similarly enjoy a production of Shakespeare in Russian, performed by top Russian actors.)

A lot of fun was had. It was interesting finally getting a bird’s eye view of the play, because I’d always seen it from ground-level (at various distances) before. There was a tiny section of the stage blocked from our view (I had to explain the refrigerator sight-gag to the couple sitting next to me, because that little alcove of the stage couldn’t be seen from our vantage point– but most of the play was unaffected. It was easier watching everything at once without worrying who or what part of the action I should be watching. Hugo’s the bravura and bluster of Hugo’s physical performance and his sexy way of slouching/draping his body over the furniture was more evident. We were close enough to still see facial expression pretty well. And, for the record, I never experienced any difficulty making out the words or with echoes the way some patrons and critics claimed they did. Yes, I’d seen the play four times before, but I’d have felt cheated if I missed this or that line due to poor acoustics. The person I brought with me reported no problems either, and she was much further back. I think some people are actually Australian-accent-impaired and are blaming the venue. 😉 Obviously one hears better in the front orchestra, but I still heard everything fine up in the mezzanine. And City Center does provide free headsets rental for anyone who might have hearing issues.

This final performance had a quickness and zaniness previous ones lacked. Actors seemed to be relishing both a final opportunity to perform their characters and that it was the final time… they were one-upping each other with more gusto, reaching broader emotional peaks and throwing themselves into the physical bits of business with more gusto. Quieter moments and subtleties were more in evident at the Tuesday performance. But the final scene brought tears to my eyes again. It has every time, though always in a slightly different way. Sometimes Sonya seems sure of her convictions and is trying to encourage Vanya… sometimes she seems unsure, and is trying to convince herself. Sometimes he smiles ruefully, sometimes patiently, sometimes not at all. I’m also struck by the seemingly- impossible range of meanings and emotions all of the actors are able to wring out of the word “Gone”, which figures so critically in the final act.  I’m feeling the full range of that again now that they are, in fact gone. It was over so quickly. I wasn’t there long enough for it all to sink in. In DC, I had the luxury of booking a hotel room and enjoying several days i the city. This time it was two jaunts in and out of New York City, each less than six hours. Not enough time.

I’m sure I’ll have many more thoughts about the whole experience over the coming days; I might share a few here or (more likely) on my personal LJ. Some I’ll no doubt keep to myself. 😉 On the drive home I was both blissful and a bit melancholy. My heart was full. I was reminded of one of my favorite exchanges from Lord of the Rings (the novels… which oddly didn’t make the film adaptation, fine as they are in every other respect. Anyhow, I’m paraphrasing a bit; at the end of Return of the King, after the Ring has been destroyed, Frodo and Sam are finally approaching The Shire again and wondering how they’re going to return to “normal lives” after all they’ve been through. Sam says that the process will seem like finally waking up from an incredible dream. Frodo replies, “To me, it’s like going back to sleep again.”

An interesting postscript: today, the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on the play’s brief by highly acclaimed run, and followed with this but of teasing: “It is rumoured that the cast enjoyed working together so much that they are seeing if they can team up again for another production.” No word yet on whether this might mean another play with the same cast or another go at Uncle Vanya… or what city or cities will be lucky enough to witness it. Hugo and Richard Roxburgh are already in talks to team up again for Waiting for Godot next season (with Tamas Ascher directing again), but that’s a essentially a two-hander (there are three minor supporting characters, but nothing I’d imagine Cate Blanchett taking on.)  So any future cast reunions would probably wait for the 2014 season. Whatever it is, a lot of us are already up for it. Someone on Twitter suggested Hugo and Cate in a production of Macbeth… lots of juicy roles in that one. Maybe Roxburgh could play Banquo or Macduff. Best not to get to carried away with Fantasy Productions just yet, but I’m happy to hear these actors seem to have enjoyed playing these characters and collaborating as much as we’ve enjoyed watching them.

It’s All Too Much! Hugo News Overload! Part One: Uncle Vanya

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…)

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.”

REX_Carolyn Contino_BEI Vanya 2012c

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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. 😉

Uncle Vanya Cast Arrive in NYC; The Hobbit at SDCC

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.

Yes, tonight is the premiere of Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya in New York. And the cast posed for a series of publicity photos last night!

L to R: Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Cate Blanchett, Sandy Gore, John Bell, Jacki Weaver, Andrew Tighe, Hayley McElhinney and Anthony Phelan Source (all photos): Mike Coppola/Getty Images North America


WireImage photos: by Jamie McCarthy (found a few in smaller but unmarked versions too; adding both)






WireImage/ Jamie McCarthy

Mike Coppola/Getty Images North America
All photos taken at Lincoln Center’s City Center Theater, New York on July 18. Thanks also to my Twitter pals Italglish and Yvette for photo hunt assistance. 😉 (Note: These are the Zimbio versions of the Getty pics. Zimbio is well known in fan circles as a tidy work-around if you want to avoid Getty watermarks, but they don’t (yet) have the WireImage photos. I did try to embed the pics the way Zimbio did (ie so you can click on pics to see largest version) but obviously that didn’t “take”, so I’m revising to use the big versions. Sorry for the “technical difficultues”– been a crazy day. I’m glad so many of you are eagerly following this play. I did find some unwatermarked WireImage pics at MSN.com (they’re included here), however, and will keep updating to include/link to the best versions of all images.)

UPDATE: Larger versions of the Getty pics can be viewed at Just Jared.

Cate Blanchett gave an extended interview promoting the production and discussing her career and future plans to the LA Times on July 14 en route to New York; no updates on the proposed production of Waiting for Godot (possibly starring Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburg next year) but she said the following about Vanya: “[Yelena, her character] isn’t even onstage all that much. The role is always the last point of attraction. It’s the collaboration that’s the real enticement…  “If you only exercise your soloist muscles, the other muscles quickly atrophy.”

“What Tamas [Ascher, the director] is able to find in Chekhov is the Chaplinesque quality, the melancholy of the clown,” says [Andrew] Upton. “There are indeed moments that you would call slapstick. Astrov, who’s played by Hugo Weaving, falls out of a window. Cate’s character falls through a door that opens behind her. But they’re not gratuitous moments. They occur at points when everything is getting a little mad and silly because of the growing passions between people that are unexpressed.”

UPDATE: There’s a new Cate Blanchett interview, emphasizing her theatrical career, over at Playbill.com; it misrepresents Hugo Weaving somewhat (not Cate, the interviewer) but we’re used to that from the entertainment press. In fact, Hugo’s career has been as expansive and diverse as Cate’s, with Hollywood villain roles a small minority of his work. And please, can any American writer figure out that Richard Roxburgh has delivered a huge volume of excellent performances since his rather one-note role in Moulin Rouge? 😉 But as always, Cate has a lot of interesting observations: “You never really give it up [working for the STC], of course…I’ll continue to act for the company. In fact, we just set our final season [as artistic directors], and I’m going to be in one of the plays. I’ve been working with these actors so long there they’re all like family now.”

The Sydney Theatre Company blog recently posted two entries in honor of the production: one featuring a series of historical, scholarly appraisals of the play, the other saluting STC’s history of touring overseas. (They mention 2006’s Hedda Gabler at BAM, which costarred Weaving and Blanchett, as well as Blanchett’s star turn in A Streetcar Named Desire in 2009… but alas, no photos of Hugo Weaving’s first theatrical role on US soil, a production of The Perfectionist (by David Williamson) that played the Spoleto Festival back in 1984. (They do mention the production, to be fair.) 😉

Most of you probably already know there was a bit of hubbub surrounding The Hobbit at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego last week; if so, you’ve also already checked out TheOneRing.Net‘s wall-to-wall coverage. Hugo didn’t attend (and wasn’t in the US until a few days ago) but Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, Elijah Wood and of course Peter Jackson were on hand to showcase some new footage (none of which managed to make it to the web, alas) and discuss the film with fans and the press. There was apparently a tiny bit of Elrond footage in the new segments shown.  The busy and meticulous folks at TORN have collected and synthesized links to all the tremendous amount of coverage online– far better than I could. Den of Geek did post the full Hall H panel in HD if you’re just after a quick overview. Peter Jackson made some ambiguous comments about wanting to shoot (even) more footage, which fans are taking to mean everything from Expanded Edition versions of the two planned films to turning The Hobbit into a trilogy. I’m more inclined to believe the former… but we’ll have to wait and see. 😉 When asked if he planned to adapt The Silmarillion (which traces the history of Middle Earth’s Elves, including Elrond’s background), Jackson quipped “I think the chances of me living past 100 are slim,” and added he doesn’t own the rights. If you want the recently-debuted new still of Elrond in HD (from the Entertainment Weekly set) in HD, go here. If you want the set in even Higher Def, go here. 😉 Plus, we’re promised a new, possibly final Production Video from PJ soon. No word on whether it will include Hugo’s recent stop in New Zealand for post-production work.

Uncle Vanya news, reviews and photos should be coming in later tonight and through the week… I’ll update as often as my schedule will permit, and hope I’m able to see some of you in New York. 🙂

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. 😉