My friend Joe is working on an adaptation of Uncle Vanya, and last night he threw the ultimate theatre geek dinner party. The evening revolved around a comparison of several filmed versions of Chekhov’s play. We watched the same scene from a 1970 BBC Video version — hilariously under-lit and over-acted — followed by a 1990 version — better but still from the “Chekhov is deadly serious” school — and finally the entire Vanya on 42nd Street.
I would guess you’ve either never seen that film or, if you have, it’s been a good 10 years since you’ve seen it. I hadn’t seen it at all, and found it completely mesmerizing in its simplicity.
The opening may be the most magical part. A bunch of actors slowly gather in Times Square — strolling down the street, exiting the subway, eating a knish — and then head into a dilapidated theatre for a run-through of the play. It starts with a bit of chitchat, then smoothly segues into the play so quickly that at first you don’t even realize it’s begun.
The adaptation (by David Mamet) is spare and elegant, fitting the stripped-down location. By focusing on the amazing cast — Julianne Moore, Wallace Shawn, Brooke Smith — the film makes the characters come alive in a particularly intimate way.
After the film, we ate homemade gooseberry pie — something else I think I’ve never done before — and talked about Chekhov, the play, Joe’s adaptation, life, death, and religion.
A wonderful night away from computers, blogs, facebook and twitter.