August 12, 2011

Cate + 8

Cate Blanchett headlines Sydney Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Kennedy Center in DC. Together with her is a stellar cast of Australian actors: Hugo Weaving, John Bell, Sandy Gore, Hayley McElhinney, Anthony Phelan, Richard Roxburgh, Andrew Tighe and Jacki Weaver.

As soon as I knew I was going to DC the first week of August, I immediately checked the website of The Kennedy Center and to my surprise, I would manage to catch the production of Uncle Vanya. Having missed Cate Blanchett in previous productions of Hedda and Streetcar, I made sure I wasn't going to miss this chance.

A few years ago, I had a geek streak and read some of the classics including Ibsen and Chekhov. I read The Seagull and have seen The Cherry Orchard film with Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates so I guess I was very aware on how daunting Chekhov's plays can be. They are generally a representation of Russian life with his characters having feelings of hopelessness and futility in terms of their lot in life. In this case, Uncle Vanya delves in themes of a wasted life and missed opportunities. How exciting isn't it?!! It is not an easy night at the theatre. So we did our homework and read the play's plot before we saw the play. We were all set to go but got a surprise when our friend Greg and Ariel said that our tickets for Aug. 6 Saturday evening is for opening night! It's a first for Lani and I to see a show at the Kennedy Center and for it to be opening night makes it all the more exciting!

The play is set in a Russian estate supervised by Vanya and his niece, Sonya. The estate residents have been milling around sulking in their ordinariness and wastedness when life is stirred by the arrival of the Professor (Serebryakov - played by John Bell) and his young wife, Yelena (Cate Blanchett). This play is said to be a challenge to it's ensemble of actors which this Australian cast manages to do so well. Everyone of them was like a cog in the wheel which propels this play forward. Evenly matched. Richard Roxburgh, Vanya, realizes his yearning for the affection of Yelena. Mr. Roxburgh plays him well with his bottled rage which eventually bursts and yet manages to be touching. Hayley McElhinney is the plain-Jane Sonya who has to compete with Yelena for Astrov's affection. She plays her as a woman hardened by labor which makes one feel for her plight. Hugo Weaving is magnetic as the vodka ladened doctor Astrov. He is a force perfectly matched with Ms. Blanchett. Much of their sexual tension is carried throughout the play and it is SO palpable. In fact, they didn't even need to say much. It's felt and seen through their the very nuanced actions. Cate Blanchett, as Yelena is restless and an enticement without knowing it. She is, in one word, incredible. I have never seen a stage presence ever so strong that your eyes are drawn to her. Her walk across the stage, a lean on the wall or even how she sits on a chair tells you so much without even speaking. I know I am gushing but I am really in awe. I mean, she's a well known actress with a "celebrity" factor but she managed to inhabit Yelena that I had forgotten that she was Cate Blanchett and just saw the character. It's one theatre experience I'll never forget.

Much of the praise should also be given to the play's director Tamas Ascher who moved the play's era to around the 1950's Soviet Russia giving it a more oppressive ambiance . Andrew Upton (Ms. Blanchett's husband) did the adaptations and he managed to make it very accessible. There was so much humour in the play it was surprising. I was also impressed with the way costume designer, Gyorgi Szakacs dressed most of the ensemble in browns, beige and greys while dressing Ms. Blanchett in striking creams in the first Act and vibrant reds in the second. It just really heightens the drama of her character's beguiling aura. Such a great production with every element working together. It's the only North American production with this ensemble and they will only be at the Kennedy Center until August 27th so if you're in the DC area, make sure to see it!

Some of the photos I took at the Kennedy Center:

JFK's bust in the lobby

The foyer

Opening night crowd. The Australian Embassy crows dominated the scene but there was also a sighting of Sec. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebylius

Production still in the lobby of the Eisenhower Theatre

We tried to stagedoor but a lady with the production said that the actors weren't coming out because they have an opening night party in the theatre. Still, we thought that was nice of them to let people like us know.

Eisenhower Theatre stagedoor


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