We were out on the town last night on a little dinner date with diplo-baby’s godparents to be, and as a treat, we organized tickets to the Kennedy Center for the Sydney theater company’s production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.
When any Russian author is involved, there is no such thing as just a comedy – although Uncle Vanya is one. No, no Russian comedy is complete without a requisite amount of lamenting of the human condition, the fates to suffer, the plight of feeling surrounded by a nest of idiots, and the curse of intellectual boredom. Check, check, check and check in Uncle Vanya. And as you can likely surmise from the pictures, there is also a lot of dramatic “clutching” going on in this show. Clutch the one you love, clutch the one that doesn’t love you, clutch the one that does the shooting…then clutch the one that was nearly shot…then clutch your friend..your enemy…your nanny. Everyone is eligible for clutching. More dramatic that way.
It’s been getting rave reviews and drawing quite a bit of attention since headlining as the sultry young wife Yelena is played by Cate Blanchett, who, it must be said, has an even more commanding presence on stage than she does on the screen. Actually most of the actors were in movies but Ms. Blanchett is the one you’ll hear about the most. But the hype is true and she is superb. In fact, all the cast are superb, and the show is an interesting take on what is normally a turn of the century piece, setting it instead sometime in the 50’s and making visual references to the Soviet era through sets and costumes.
The show is very good, that’s for sure. And for anyone who has exposure to Eastern Europe, and especially Russia, you’ll recognize many a cultural reference. But the one thing I couldn’t get past was the play’s interpretation of Sonia – it wasn’t the acting, Haley McElhinney is an excellent actress. But the whole thing came off as rather Outback country bumpkin, rather than dacha country bumpkin and I thought the character’s portrayal missed the whole blase-ness of the Russians’ typical attitudes of the fates of this life. What’s even more astonishing is that the play’s director, Tamas Ascher, is Hungarian himself so I’m suprised he didn’t draw out a more East of Danube interpretation of Sonia. Interestingly, Mr. Ascher doesn’t speak English and directs through a translator so perhaps it got lost in translation? Or then again, perhaps it was an artistic choice.
In any case, the show is worth seeing and tickets are becoming scarce – it plays through August 27th at the Kennedy Center.
Photos from NYTimes, Washington Post, and Washingtonian.