Review by Tulis McCall
January 12, 2017
The only reason to see this play is the duo of Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh. And this is one mighty reason. Watching these two is witnessing a pas de deux of mighty proportions.
For Anton Chekov fans you will be relieved to know that Andrew Upton has cut the play from 5 hours down to a fat three replete with the requisite array of many ways to say the same thing. For us mortals, this is a play that stretches time the way the rack stretched a body - slowly and painfully. That is, it is slow and painful when anyone other than the aforementioned twosome (as well as the exceptional Toby Schmitz who acquits himself very well indeed) are speaking, or emoting, or whatever.
The event in question is Anna (Blanchett) and her 40th birthday. She is the widow of a famous general, and the party takes place on her estate. She invites her stepson, Sergei (Chris Ryan) and his wife, Sophia (Jacqueline McKenzie), and Nikolai’s girlfriend, Maria (Anna Bamford). Also included are two older gentlemen neighbors who are potential marriage material because they have money and Anna does not.
If she had her 'druthers, however, she would take Mikail (Roxburgh) with whom she has been friends and almost lovers for decades. The two of them speak the language of love that is so sensuous, intimate and intelligent it makes your head spin. Watching them together is so transfixing you almost want to turn away because voyeurism on this sort of relationship feels a little tawdry.
While Anna and Mikhail swerve through each others radar over the weekend, this does not stop Mikhail from slithering after every other woman at the party with the exception of his frumpy wife. Sophia is a former lover who has never post her fantasy about Mikhail - partly because her husband is a nebbish methinks - and Maria wants Mikhail because she does. End of analysis. This sexual spinning becomes the axis for the play, and were the acting skills of equal merit it might have worked. This is not the case, however, so that the tug-of-war nearly causes the play to flatline.
Add to this the fact that the play could have been cut by another hour, and you have a fairly unsatisfactory evening. I say this with caution because, in the case of Blanchett and Roxburgh you want these scenes to simply never end. Watching them is a transfixing experience. The rest of the cast does not demonstrate the same skills of handling a text. This young Chekov goes deep with his words and digs specifications out of the very souls of his characters who are caught in the present between the future, for which they long, and the past, from which they flee. Had the other actors been up to the task, this would have been an altogether different event.
As it is, attending this play for these two performances is an extraordinary experience.
"...the Sydney Theater Company’s sprawling and confused adaptation of a sprawling and confused play written by a young Anton Chekhov. This fitful Australian import, which opened on Sunday night at the Barrymore Theater, chronicles the bad behavior at one ill-fated birthday celebration. The mistress of these revels, I am happy to report, is the extraordinary screen star Cate Blanchett, making a long-awaited Broadway debut... Ms. Blanchett knows how to hold a stage and, if necessary, hijack it."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Cate Blanchett’s captivating presence makes “The Present” a worthwhile three-hour sit. The same goes for her equally commanding co-star Richard Roxburgh in this play inspired by an unwieldy early Anton Chekhov work. That said, without the two mighty bright stars — who, like the whole cast, are making Broadway debuts — it’d be a slow-starting, fitfully amusing and longwinded evening at the Barrymore Theatre."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Typical of novice playwrights, young Chekhov overstuffed his three-hour first play, and it is muddled, especially in the first scene. But just watch as comedy and tragedy collide in this unhappy household, and suddenly boredom never felt so entertaining."
Roma Torre for NY1
"This crass, seriocomic script lumbers along for three palpable hours, alternately tedious and odious, expecting us to care about its petty, miserable, bed-hopping Russian characters without giving them witty or touching things to say."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"A tart tragedy, infused with corrosive humor."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"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."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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