Seeing Chekhov

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As many of you know, I would rather go through a colonics session multiple times than sit through a Chekhov play.  I’m also of the view that, after TUTA’s remount of their 2007 hit last year and Strawdog Theater’s current offering, we need another Uncle Vanya production in this city in the same way we need another increase in parking meter rates- befuddling and unwarranted.  However, the Uncle Vanya that the famed Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg (one of the three European theaters designated as a prestigious “Theater of Europe”) brought to Chicago last week and weekend as part of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World Stage series, was not your run-of-the-mill, patience-thinning, narcolepsy-inducing Uncle Vanya, despite running close to three hours, and being performed in Russian with English surtitles.  This was a beautifully wrought, immersively conceived, meticulously detailed production performed with astounding clarity by Chekhov’s countrymen, bringing with them the invaluable weight of cultural associations and lineage.  This was as good a Chekhov production as you’re going to see ever in your lifetime (and I was very thrilled that this was the hottest cultural ticket in town last weekend, with all performances sold out).

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A Captive Moth

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blanchett-streetcar.jpgFor this out and proud actressexual (noun – a male, gay or straight, obsessed with larger-than-cinematic-life actresses, often seen performing in unforgettable, Oscar-worthy dramatic roles, respectfully co-opted from Nat Rogers of TheFilmExperience.net), some of my most memorable recent female images on film have come courtesy of the wonderful Cate Blanchett.  From the last scene of Elizabeth when she slowly, hypnotically walks towards the camera in Kabuki face, to that scene in The Talented Mr. Ripley when she is dreamily flitting around steamer trunks, to her somewhat overbaked, but always fascinating Academy Award-winning impersonation of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, I’ve always found her enthralling, and yes, larger than life, and quite possibly the best actress of her generation.  So when I heard that she was going to bring her acclaimed Sydney Theater Company (where she is co-Artistic Director with her husband, playwright Andrew Upton) production of A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by the legendary actress Liv Ullmann to the US, but only to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York, I was off hunting for tickets faster than Russell Crowe can throw a phone at a hotel clerk.  Cate Blanchett, Tennessee Williams, Liv Ullmann – man, I was as breathless as if I was wearing three layers of male spanx! Swoon!  But the swooning is highly deserved, since after seeing the production during its DC stop last weekend, I’m pretty certain that theater lovers everywhere, actressexual or not, will find this unforgivingly stark Streetcar and Blanchett’s harrowing, vanity-less, indelible performance, that rare night in the theater that they can proudly and vividly recount to their children and grandchildren for years.

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