The Sydney Theater Company’s production of Uncle Vanya (now playing for the Lincoln Center Festival) strikes a riveting balance between comedy and drama. Director Tamas Ascher emphasizes the physical comedy in this production; and with a new translation by Andrew Upton (husband of Cate Blanchett—both of whom are co-artistic directors at the Sydney Theater Company), this creative team brings the words of playwright Chekhov to life in a new and engaging way for audiences.
Professor Serebryakov (John Bell) is recovering from a debilitating case of gout in a remote country estate, which is being taken care of by his daughter Sonya (Hayley McElhinney)—who inherited it from her deceased mother—and his brother-in-law Vanya (Richard Roxburgh). The professor’s younger second wife Yelena (Cate Blanchett) is suffering from a debilitating case of ennui, with only an increasing flirtation with her husband’s doctor—Astrov (Hugo Weaving)—to keep her going. The love geometry becomes more tangled as we learn that Sonya, too, has a crush on the doctor; and Vanya is nursing his own crush on Yelena.
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.