VANYA ON 42ND STREET comes from a unique idea. Andre Gregory (from
My Dinner With Andre fame) has for years been gathering actor and
actress friends of his to do the Anton Chekhov play UNCLE VANYA for fun
at an off-Broadway theater. They invite a dozen of their friends to
watch it and they do the play, sans costumes, just for the sheer
enjoyment of acting.
Louis Malle heard of this and decided to film and direct one of
these gatherings. The play was updated (read modernized) by the great
contemporary playwright, David Mamet. You may remember Mamet from many
of his well written movies--my favorites being HOUSE OF GAMES (1987)
and THINGS CHANGE (1988). His staccato style of terse, biting, and
thought provoking dialog is unrivaled. (Okay, it is sort of like
Harold Pinter, but Pinter is so depressing).
The show starts with the people coming slowly in off of 42nd
Street to the old Shubert Theater which is mainly in ruins now. Andre
Gregory has a small speaking role as the leader of the audience of a
dozen friends. Out of no where the play begins. It is as if they had
come to your old house and were putting on a play just for you in your
In the play Uncle Vanya is played with great gusto by Wallace
Shawn (the other person in MY DINNER WITH ANDRE). He is a Russian
living at the family's country estate with his niece (Brooke Smith) who
is madly in love with the country doctor (Larry Pine) who visits almost
every day. Sad to say the love is not mutual. Also on the estate is
the niece's Father--a professor and his new wife, Yelena (beautifully
played by Jullianne Moore as a classic flirt). There are several other
actors and actresses with important parts in the play. All did a
wonderful job, but for me it was Shawn and Moore that really stood out
as giving terrific performances.
In the play, Vanya is very sad because he has worked hard all of
his life, and he thinks that at the age of 47 he is now too old to be
of interest to women. (47--imagine that!) He is head over heels in
love with the professor's wife--his sister having died before the play
starts and the professor having married Yelena. Yelena flirts
intensively with Vanya. Watch the camera angles which intensifies
their close face-to-face flirting. It turns out however that Yelena
indeed does not find Vanya at all attractive--just as he feared.
Yelena, on the other hand, confides in a great woman-to-woman talk
fest with her stepsister that she thought she loved the professor when
she married him but now realizes that she did not love him then and
certainly does not love him now, and yet, she can not leave him. She
confesses that she is terribly unhappy with her life.
The play is one great scene after another. I do not remember the
original UNCLE VANYA so I can not say for sure how much Mamet modified
it, but I suspect a fair amount. Whatever. I found the dialog fairly
perfect as presented in this movie.
Copyright © 1994 Steve Rhodes