Tag Archives: Uncle Vanya

Hugo Weaving Flickr Archive Update, New Articles, Interviews and Reviews Since Jan. 1

Note: this is an archived entry. Some links might not still work, but I have tried to ensure scan and video embeds are still in place. If any linked material is unavailable, please let me know and I’ll attempt to find a copy in my personal archives.

There hasn't been any earthshattering breaking news since the first of the year (or the last update), but many new articles and reviews of Hugo's films Cloud Atlas (which has still not debuted in Australia and the UK, where it's due next month) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey continue to appear. I'll also share links to a bunch of new scans I uploaded to Flickr about these films and a few others, and some video embeds that are either newly available in higher-res formats, or are newly available on YouTube.

Hugo began filming his role in the compendium project The Turning in early December. This was probably the reason he opted out of most of the post-Wellington Hobbit premieres, though I wouldn't say it pained him to skip a few more red carpets. Hugo referenced the film in an 3AW Radio interview conducted at the Wellington premiere (and shared in the previous Hugonuts entry), and The Turning's Twitter feed confirmed that filming on Hugo's segment (entitled "The Commission", directed by none other than David Wenham) commenced on December 10. Given the brisk pace of filming on most independent films, and the fact that this is in effect a short film that will appear in a themed compilation rather than an individual feature-length project, it's entirely possible Hugo's work on this project has been completed. The Turning will premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival this coming July, and some international distribution rights are already lined up, though no formal release dates have been announced.

Hugo was also spotted in attendance at the premiere of Sydney Theatre Company's well-regarded new production of The Secret River, according to The Australian (and many Twitter fans). Alas, he eluded photographers– not that he should really be expected to pose for paparazzi when he's simply an audience member. 😉 Hugo's former costars Anita Hegh (Last Ride), Jeremy Sims (Riflemind) and Bruce Spence (The Matrix Revolutions, Wendy Cracked A Walnut) are in the cast, and the production was directed by his old friend/former stage director Neil Armfield.

There have been a pair of bona fide new interviews… sort of. 😉

News.com.au posted what was billed as a new Hugo Weaving interview back on 2 January, but in fact it was recycled brief  comments from other Wellington Hobbit red carpet interviews. 😉 The print version features an obvious transcription error in addition to the same great Hobbit set photo (with Ian McKellen) :

The scandalously missing/misplaced #2 is as follows: 2. PARTY ON, BILBO:"Maybe they should have it as a national day every year," Weaving said at the premiere – well, with two more Hobbit movies to come this year and next, they probably will! "It feels like a country celebrating its own culture. The film presents New Zealand culture so beautifully, that's why people here love it so much."

Of more interest is a longer interview featured in the Mexican newspaper El Universal (and its online edition.) Hugo's promoting Cloud Atlas in this one, but it never mentions if it was conducted recently or back in the fall when Hugo was involved in press junkets for the film in Toronto, Los Angeles, Moscow and Berlin. I'll include the original print version below, along with an approximate translation of Hugo's comments; you'll notice a certain consistency in his remarks on this film and his career goals, but he finds an interesting way to put things each time.

On his favorite Cloud Atlas role: ""I like them all for different reasons, but the part I enjoyed most was Old Georgie, he isn't really a living person, but a figure representing the fear in the mind of the character of Tom Hanks plays in the [postapocalyptic Zachry storyline]. That was a thrill, an interesting challenge for everyone involved in the way it was filmed and because fear is not typically described visually, it is, rather, something you feel, [so] probably was the most interesting to me. "

On his preferred environment and causes: "I'm not very passionate about Los Angeles…Unlike my characters in Cloud Atlas, who want to control reality and try to limit the imagination, selfishly, I just started using a cellphone last year; I plant trees, read books and I can not drive a car. I'm interested in reality. I try to spend time with people and not objects, I am in favor of the organic and animals…We have a limited ability to change the life of the world, but that does not mean you should stop trying to do it, [It's like] one of the scenes in the movie that speaks of the evolutionists, about [how much we should be willing to personally risk to effect incremental change], but at any rate you do what is correct for you and do the movies you believe in and that speak of themes you believe in and do what you can through generating dialogue with people"

On working with the Wachowskis, and his career goals: ""I think they are extraordinary and take risks in achieving their purposes, but they are great human beings, essentially involving talented people in their projects and allowing them to grow with them and inject their own complexities in something that is already complex from inception; I like their movies and be with them, they're inspiring… One of the reasons I wanted to do this project (Cloud Atlas) is the risk posed, to start with, the original book is a bold work of imagination; author David Mitchell structured the story in a peculiar way [The] story had to be presented differently in a cinematic language, and Andy and Lana Wachowski are directors who like to take risks, trying to break the rules. They imagine doing something differently and seek [new means of] expression. Sometimes the results are not successful, but the interesting thing is that they [aren't hindered] and find an extraordinary way to tell a story with each new film proposal …I remember with V for Vendetta I encouraged the Wachowski to give me the character because my face is never on screen and I'm proud of that particular character. I do not care if I appear in a film hiding my face, because what interest me are the characters…I work a lot in theater and cutting-edge independent films, where I have many roles. [Most people probably] identify me as the villain from Matrix, but if I had to do that sort of character every time or play characters with no depth, that would not interest me. I like to play characters that are fully human, with all sorts of complexities and individual personalities, but I've been typecast playing the villain in Hollywood films. "

As I mentioned earlier, I was finally able to take some time to scan a batch of print articles that had been collecting since summer… none have a ton of Hugo content and none are exclusive interviews (the Oklahoman piece features an interview with Hugo and Susan Sarandon which previously appeared online) , or I'd have gotten around to it earlier. However, they're worth a look for fans of Cloud Atlas and The Hobbit (there are also pieces on Oranges and Sunshine, Mystery Road and a curio on 1986's For Love Alone.)

New York Daily News Hobbit Preview Part One, Part Two (Includes interviews with Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett; a companion piece to this Hugo Weaving interview which appeared only online.)

New Zealand Dominion Post Hobbit Premiere Preview (features cast photos taken at other events, including one of Hugo at the Berlin Cloud Atlas premiere)

Oklahoman Cloud Atlas interview with Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon

STC's Les Liaisons Dangereuses included in Sydney Morning Herald's list of Best Australian Theatre 2012

A brief update on Ivan Sen's Mystery Road (and a reprint of the astonishingly lovely photo of Hugo and Aaron Pedersen) from The Brisbane Courier-Mail

Aaron Pedersen and Hugo Weaving in the forthcoming Mystery Road

USA Today Weekend Hobbit preview/Martin Freeman interview

TIME Ian McKellen interview

Tribune Media Tom Hanks interview/Cloud Atlas preview

Tribune Media Cate Blanchett interview/Uncle Vanya preview (the New York City Center run)

STC's 2013 Season brochure: Waiting For Godot, starring Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. Page One, Page Two

Curzon magazine advertisements for Oranges and Sunshine: Poster ad, Blurb

David Mitchell's charming NY Times Magazine essay on the process of adapting his novel Cloud Atlas for the screen; also, a thoroughly charming interview from the New York Times Book Review.

New York Times Cloud Atlas preview, featuring interviews with the directors and Tom Hanks: Page One, Page Two

Ben Brantley (New York Times theater critic) includes STC's New York run of Uncle Vanya among his Best of 2012 picks

A vintage review of For Love Alone (a 1986 period piece in which Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill competed for Helen Buday's affections) from TV Scene

Entertainment Weekly's Fall Movie issue previews of The Hobbit and Cloud Atlas; also, their sneak peak of the first two film still from August and their positive (if slightly obnoxious and elitist review (Page One, Page Two.) And a brief interview with Halle Berry about her various guises in the film.

Ben Brantley's analysis of recent Chekhov productions in New York theaters, including more raves for the STC production of Uncle Vanya (Part One, Part Two)

Tom Hanks as Zachry gets some suspect advice from Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) in Cloud Atlas

Online Cloud Atlas Articles: Cloud Atlas Among Art Directors' Guild Nominees (HitFix), The Independent predicted (correctly, as it tuens out) that "[Cloud Atlas's] huge ambition is likely prove too much for Academy voters [but] ignoring it will undoubtedly leave a very large elephant in the room", Movieline debunks Mary Pols' idiocy (as have many others), Lubbock Online includes Cloud Atlas in its Best of 2012 list, Unsolicited Criticism notes Jim Broadbent's performances among 2012's best, Slate justly excoriates the Academy (and it's overwhelmingly old, risk-averse membership) for snubbing Cloud Atlas, Den of Geek chimes in eloquently on the same subject, Awards Daily names the "all boundaries are conventions" sequence in CA one of the year's best (and I agree– I never got through it in four screenings without weeping). Though CA was snubbed for most major American movie awards, it was nominated by The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association’s (GALECA) for their Dorian Awards and for the German Film Awards (aka the "Lolas") in several categories.

Online Hobbit Articles: Peter Jackson Mourns Loss of Hobbit Sound Editor Mike Hopkins (Big Pond News), A detailed, lovingly written exposition of why The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is in fact true to Tolkien's intentions (Huffington Post), A thorough debunking of the asinine notion The Hobbit is a "box office disappointment" at TORN, The Tolkien Nerd's Guide to The Hobbit at Smithsonian Online, Flicks and Bits showcased a Desolation of Smaug fan-made poster that's as good as any of the official Hobbit posters. Headless Hollow described the experience of seeing The Hobbit: AUJ in the Wellington cinema where it premiered… on an ordinary screening night. (Nice pics too. And you can sit in seats commemorating various cast members.)

New Cloud Atlas Reviews: RubikunsReviews, The Society For Film, The Roosevelt News, Scene Contemporanee (Italian), Il Referendum (Italian), Cinemio (Italian), Seoul Sisters, Reel Drama Queen, Die Filmkritikerin (German), MyWorld (Italian), Spettacolo (Italian) and DiddlesMovies.

New Hobbit: AUJ Reviews: The Examiner, The Film Connoisseur, The Highlander, Pop Culture Guy, Into The Sunset, and Filumreviews.

And Alan Waldman included Oranges and Sunshine among his favorite 2012 films (despite the fact it opened in 2011 in most of the world)… proving great films are always new to someone, and that many need time to find their audiences. Oranges and Sunshine recently screened on BBC2 and is now featured on the US Starz/Encore cable channels.

New/Newly Enhanced Videos:

This "13 Minute TV Special" shared by ComingSoon.net on YouTube featured a combination of cast interviews and behind the scenes footage, including some that was new to me.

And the previously-seen B-Roll videos (some of which Warner's has taken down at their original locations, rather inexplicably) are now available in HD versions, courtesy JimiBWatson. I'll re-post all five; Hugo Weaving is seen in #3 and #5.

I was going to add an HD version of the Polish TV Cloud Atlas interview featuring Hugo Weaving and James D'Arcy jokingly taking the piss out of each other… but it's already been removed (again). Will add that one if it appears again… or I might have to take matters into my own hands. (Hugo's full interview from the Hobbit Wellington premiere live event STILL hasn't appeared online in any official form. Inexcusable.)  

With Cloud Atlas due to debut in several more key markets early next month, there should be an uptick in news soon, though no official, additional premieres have been announced. (I think Hugo might be "premiered out" for the time being anyhow.) 😉 I'll also get back to work on adding additional vintage web articles (2005 onwards) to the digital Flickr archive as time permits.

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.

Hugo Attends Gotham Magazine Party With Vanya Cast

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.

A couple new pics of Hugo attending yet another soiree in honor of the Uncle Vanya cast have appeared; in this case, Cate Blanchett, Hugo, Richard Roxburgh and their fellow actors attended a Gotham Magazine Cover Party held at the London Hotel on Wednesday, July 25. You can view the full set at Getty Images, Zimbio and Just Jared (the latter has nice, high-res images), Somewhat ironically (given what happens in the play) the festivities were sponsored by a vodka company. 😉

Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images

Photo: Joseph Grossman/WENN

Hugo’s already-brief New York Post interview from yesterday is already being truncated further in various places; many sites are running with the not-exactly-news that Hugo has epilepsy (though he’s been asymptomatic for years), while the Daily Telegraph quoted his musings on his role in Vanya… I’ll share the print version of that because it features a nice pic of Hugo taken at last month’s Sydney Film Festival.

Another random observation from my Vanya revisit the other night: as I mentioned before, Hugo and his castmates played the drunken antics of Scene 2 more broadly, and with greater abandon (mixed, later, with raw, painful self-realization)… but I did notice Hugo was taking extra care to pay attention to the edge of the stage, which he pranced along quite nimbly. I don’t blame him for wanting to avoid another tumble into the audience like he took in 2006 during the BAM run of Hedda Gabler. Though I’m sure plenty of us would have rushed to catch him (or Cate, or Richard) if such a mishap transpired. 😉

I’m still parsing the Cloud Atlas trailer for any additional signs of Hugo (other than the snippet 4.25 in, which I capped in the previous entry)… haven’t found anything yet. Some fans are complaining about there not being enough Hugo in the trailer. With me, it’s more like I was already fascinated and then they sprang Hugo on me… “Wow! All this… and Hugo too!” I don’t blame them for keeping some of the crazier casting stunts under wraps for now, because they’re trying to sell the story and experience at this stage, not the race- and gender- swapping games. I wish more films were this mysterious this close to their release dates.

Hugo Weaving Overload! Part Three! New Interview, Cloud Atlas Trailer, New Film The Healing

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.

There’s been so much breaking news this week it’s been overwhelming trying to cover it all, but I’m working on it (whenever I can get breaks from my “real job”), so please be patient.

First up, Hugo gave a brief interview to Barbara Hoffman, which was published this morning in the New York Post. You can read the online version here, and I’ll embed the print version below. Some fans have joked about the rather… simplistic questions, but for the New York Post, this is actually better than average. (And it includes a great new photo by Chad Rachman.) At first I thought Hugo was deliberately deflecting a question about whether The Hobbit will be two films or three, as the rumor mill currently has it (rumors Peter Jackson seems to be fueling)… but in reality, he probably hasn’t kept up on these rumors because he’s so busy on other projects, and there’s no indication any of the Hobbit/Rings actors who’d be needed for a third film have yet been approached to make one. We all know Hugo pays no attention to the internet . 😉

Photo: Chad Rachman, New York Post

Next comes word of a long-planned independent project Hugo had been planning with director Craig Monahan, who gave him a pair of his most provocative Australian roles in the films The Interview (1998) and Peaches (2005). The film is a prison-set drama entitled Healing; according to Deadline’s report,  “Hugo Weaving and Don Hany will star in Healing, an Australian drama about a sympathetic prison warden and his efforts to rehabilitate an Iranian-born prisoner, one of four features agency Screen Australia agreed to co-finance at its board meeting today….Healing will be directed by Craig Monahan, who co-scripted with Alison Nisselle. Los Angeles-based Lightning Entertainment is handling international sales and Pinnacle is the local distributor. Producer Tait Brady tells Deadline the film is based on a true story in which the rehabilitation of the long-term prisoner involved building an aviary in the low-security prison.” (Note: LJ refuses to save my entry with the Deadline.com hyperlink, so try these: Collider, The Hollywood News, HitFix.

This has been a cherished project of Monahan’s for a long time; in 2005 (while promoting Peaches) he mentioned that his next film was in the scripting stage (Alison Nisselle is named) and might costar Weaving: “[It’s] a true story about redemption and hope. [Hugo] has expressed interest. So when I’ve raised the money, we’ll sit down and talk.”) (The Weekend Australian, 4 June 2005) It took Monahan from 1998 to 2003 to finance Peaches, and another two years to get the film released, so it’s a testament to Monahan’s perseverance and Hugo’s loyalty that Healing (called The Healing in some early reports) will finally get made– no filming schedule or release date is yet known, but I don’t imagine Hugo will be available until next year.

Of course, the most buzzed-about Hugo News (though we haven’t seen much Hugo footage yet) is the debut of the tantalizing, much-speculated-about-but-little-known Cloud Atlas. I can’t yet find an HD copy, and this version is frustratingly low-fi and glitchy, and was apparently leaked or  released by the film’s Asian distributor– it isn’t on the Cloud Atlas Facebook page yet. (That will surely change). But damn.. it looks gorgeous and mesmerizing, and mainly faithful to the trajectory of the novel, though the Wachowskis and Tykwer have amped up the existing romantic subplots and seemingly added a few more. I’m particularly eager to see what they do with Sonmi, because it’s a visceral, dark scifi plot (the sort of thing the Wachowskis have excelled at in the past) and the scenes glimpsed here make it look like the directors got it dead-on. I’m only wondering how Hugo could possibly fit into that story… but what we see looks amazing. Five minutes flew by very quickly. Only a few seconds of Hugo footage (I’m in the middle of isolating some stills), probably from the 1850s-set Adam Ewing plot… Hugo is probably playing D’Arnoq or Horrox in that, given the Fezziwig hair and age of the character. (But then, who knows what supporting characters from the novel have been retained/composited, etc.) I’m just relieved it doesn’t look like Hugo is playing Boerhaave or the cannibal leader at this point. 😉

BREAKING NEWS: We have an HD version of the trailer, so far resistant to embedding, and an interview with the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer at Apple’s Movie Trailers site. I’ll add the lo-res Jo-Blo version here for the time being, and hope some non-Quicktime version in HD is available soon. [2015 update: I’ve embedded the original extended trailer and directors’ interview from Warner Bros YouTube feed.]

Here are some caps of Hugo’s little cameo:

More to come, no doubt… this has been a very busy week. I’m happy to hear other fans have made it to Uncle Vanya. Sorry about all the technical difficulties in earlier versions of this post.

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…)