Review Roundup: Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh-Led THE PRESENT- All the Reviews!
Andrew Upton's new adaptation of Anton Chekhov's first play, Platonov, The Present opens tonight at the Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street) for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 19, 2017. THE PRESENT features the Sydney Theatre Company cast of 13, each making their Broadway debut, including Cate Blanchett (Anna) and Richard Roxburgh (Mikhail).
Variously known as Platonov, Wild Honey, Fatherlessness and The Disinherited, Anton Chekhov's first play was not discovered until 1920, some 16 years after the playwright's death. Andrew Upton's adaptation is set post-Perestroika in the mid-1990s at an old country house where friends gather to celebrate the birthday of the independent but compromised widow Anna Petrovna (Blanchett). At the center is the acerbic and witty Platonov (Roxburgh) with his wife, his former students and friends and their partners. They may appear comfortable, but boiling away inside is a mess of unfinished, unresolved relationships, fueled by twenty years of denial, regret and thwarted desire.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: Ms. Blanchett does bring colorful shades of excitement to being bored. Her Anna plays a great game of dramatically uninterested chess, and her response to a rambling speech by Mikhail at the lunch table is priceless. (Hint: it involves the removal of an undergarment.) That comes just before that rip-roaring, scenery-destroying bacchanal I wrote about earlier. It's one of the most memorable party sequences I've ever seen, a volcanic channeling of a displaced class's fear, anger and disgust. These people want to blow up their world, and in a way they do, most entertainingly. That leaves us with another full hour of tediously sorting through the ashes.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: In director John Crowley's well-acted, lethargically staged Sydney Theatre Company production of Andrew Upton's adaptation, titled The Present, Cate Blanchett, who happens to be married to the playwright, is the beneficiary of the evening's funny and dramatically flashy moments while co-star Richard Roxburgh pulls his weight admirably, portraying the inebriated symbol of self-absorbed misogyny.
David Cote, TimeOut New York: Chekhov never wrote a play called The Present; that's what Australian adapter Andrew Upton calls his remodeled Platonov. Then again, Chekhov never wrote a play called Platonov; that's one of the titles historians have applied to the Russian dramatist's untitled, unwieldy, unfinished work, found in a safe-deposit box 16 years after his death. I've never read or seen the piece: An uncut staging would run about five hours. Young Chekhov wrote it while in medical school, and by all accounts, it's a dramaturgical train wreck (ending with suicide on actual train tracks-eat your heart out, Martin McDonagh!).
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Fireworks, here, are both metaphorical and literal: Halfway through the three-hour drama, the sensual leading lady detonates the countryside summer house where much of the first act has transpired. 40 ... it's the new 14? An adaptation by Andrew Upton, who is Blanchett's husband, "The Present" arrives at The Barrymore Theatre with its original Australian cast intact. Anna's foil, Mikhail, a childhood friend and former paramour, is played by Richard Roxburgh, who may be best known to American audiences from Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge."
Matt Windman, amNY: As directed by John Crowley with a spare visual design, "The Present" is an uneven, uneventful and aimless mess. It gets off to a poor start with a long opening scene that leaves audience members confused regarding the various character relationships. Blanchett gives a layered and enigmatic performance as Anna (Blanchett), a widow on the verge of turning 40. Looking stylish and sexy, Blanchett revels in revealing Anna's contradictory and spontaneous behavior, from lazily lounging around to getting drunk and dancing on a dinner table to brandishing a firearm. Blanchett is ably supported by Roxburgh, who brings an intense physicality to the passive but alluring Mikhail. The rest of the 13-member Australian cast has much less to work with in terms of characterization.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh lead the Sydney Theater Company in a sparkling production of "The Present," Andrew Upton's free-form treatment of Anton Chekhov's "Platonov." The original play, an early effort written when the playwright was 21, is quite the shaggy dog - rambling, unfocused and stuffed with gratuitous characters. But the spirit of Chekhovian farce shines bright, and the ensemble work of this Aussie company is just grand.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: The entire company of 13 has been with the production since it debuted in Sydney in 2015, and that commitment shows both in the depth of the individual characterizations and the sparks of their interactions. While there's not a weak link in the ensemble, I particularly enjoyed McKenzie's increasingly single-minded Sophia; Prior, bringing puppy-dog devotion to Sasha; Jacobs' wistful Alexei; Marshall Napier, amusing as the boozehound father of Sasha and Nikolai; and Ryan as Sergei, a meek, uninteresting man painfully aware of his own dullness. Weaving together these characters and their hollow lives in a context that connects them both to Chekhov's Russia and to our own uncertain world, Upton, Crowley and this accomplished company have elevated a problematic play into something unexpectedly satisfying.
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: The soulful, rueful, and romantic Russian playwright Anton Chekhov is one of those evergreen, canonic dramatists who, like Ibsen, O'Neill, and Shakespeare, will never go out of fashion. No matter what continent or hemisphere you're in, somewhere there's guaranteed to be a stage where The Seagull or Uncle Vanya or Three Sisters or The Cherry Orchard is being performed. Rarely, though, do you get a chance to see his forgotten first play, Platonov. There are a couple of reasons for that: The first and most obvious is that, as written, the four-act drama is five hours long - an endurance test for even the heartiest and most devoted Chekhovian. Second, and more mysteriously, it's just one of those plays that tends to get overlooked. It's a second-tier work that seems to shrink when put under the same spotlight as Chekhov's first-tier ones. It's his Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 - impressive, but no one walks around humming it.
Tim Teeman, Daily Beast: In John Crowley's Broadway production-handsomely designed and costumed by Alice Babidge-there are none of the long skirts and even longer pauses one typically expects from Chekhov. Upton, who is married to Blanchett, has set this Sydney Theatre Company production in 1990s Russia, and though the play is focused on the romantic and personal travails of the group gathered to celebrate Anna's birthday at her country house, the theme of money-making it, losing it, the possibility of having lots of it-speaks to a modern social order in transition.
Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: This free adaptation of an early and not-quite-finished student play by Chekhov is a homegrown effort from the Sydney Theatre Company, an indication of the sort of fiery work Upton and Blanchett (who have been married since 1997) did during their recently-ended term as co-artistic directors. Three of Upton's other STC adaptations-Hedda Gabler, Uncle Vanya and Genet's The Maids-have made brief New York visits, thanks to Blanchett's star-power. Her presence in The Present makes it an instant event on Broadway; but the play and production are more than worthy, thank you very much. What's more, the excellence of the entire acting company of thirteen makes it abundantly clear why the U.S. producers went to the expense of importing them from Australia.
Max McGuinness, Financial Times: Upton and Crowley err, however, by shifting the story to Russia just after the collapse of communism. For the characters' struggles are all personal rather than political. Given that several are middle-class professionals (a group whose livelihoods evaporated during economic "shock therapy" in the early 1990s), they also seem oddly untroubled by material concerns. It smacks of an attempt at injecting an unnecessary dose of world-historical seriousness into an essentially playful work. For all its strengths, Upton and Crowley have taken their adaptation too far.
Diane Snyder, The Telegraph: Few actors can juggle successful film and theatre careers simultaneously. But Cate Blanchett has made it look astonishingly easy, winning two Oscars while also starring in Sydney Theatre Company productions of Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Maids, among others. For her Broadway debut in The Present, at the Barrymore Theatre, she shares top billing with fellow Aussie Richard Roxburgh, and the fireworks set up to mark her character's 40th birthday at the end of the first act of this adaptation of Chekhov's Platonov aren't the only sparks igniting in this intense, invigorating three-hour show.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: The Present, like many of Chekhov's works, is ultimately a study of characters who can't align what they want with who they are, people out of step with time and fashion and themselves. But when this production works best, as in a debauched dance sequence, a sudden shock of violence, and the flammable scenes between Roxburgh and Blanchett, it feels entirely of the moment and urgently, ripely alive.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Cate Blanchett is the attraction. Richard Roxburgh is the revelation. That overly brief assessment does not detract from Blanchett's considerable achievement in Andrew Upton's new play, "The Present," which opened Sunday at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Upton and Blanchett would probably agree that the play, freely adapted and updated from Anton Chekhov's "Platonov," is all about that title character, Mikhail Platonov, a middle-aged schoolteacher who is as much adored by women and he is disgusted by himself.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Par for the course in Chekhov, this Sydney Theatre Company production written by Blanchett's husband Andrew Upton and directed by John Crowley ("Brooklyn") is filled with lost souls, regrets, an uncertain future and pistols. The action, set in Russia in the mid-1990s, signalled with maxi dresses, mom jeans and apt pop tunes like "What Is Love?", begins with preparations for a birthday bash. Anna (Blanchett), a widow and landowner on the verge of ruin, is turning the big 4-0. She's less interested in blowing out birthday candles than blowing up her life - as in, with dynamite.
Jesse Green, Vulture: ... if the politics of this Platonov revamp are apt enough, the drama still founders on the play's inability to link them convincingly to the nearly farcical social comedy of individuals at loose ends. Partly this is because the production, directed somewhat bumpily by John Crowley, keeps the politics at bay for too long while it focuses on the radiating damage an empty man can cause at great removes, like a storm surge. We do not really understand the stakes until it's too late, which may be accurate for the characters but undermines the audience. Chekhov's famous dramaturgical dictum - "one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off" - is meticulously observed here; the General's old pistol is all but spotlit throughout. But however much damage it finally causes, it isn't enough to turn The Present, which operates best as a comedy, into the tragedy it seems to wish it were. It would take Chekhov another 20 years to figure out how to make the two things into one.
Linda Winer, Newsday: It would be possible - and extremely pleasurable - to spend most of the three hours at "The Present" just watching Cate Blanchett. Here she is playing the seemingly confident widow Anna on the eve of her 40th birthday. She stares out from her late husband's Russian country estate wearing a filmy summer dress. She lounges unselfconsciously in the laps of her party guests, enjoying a foot massage from her grown stepson.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus