Are you willing to endure three hours of boredom in exchange for some occasional moments of radiance from Cate Blanchett?
Blanchett has appeared plenty of times at BAM and Lincoln Center Festival in revivals of classic plays produced by Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company (including “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Hedda Gabler” and “The Maids”), but Broadway eluded her — until now.
Once again appearing with the Sydney Theatre Company, Blanchett is making her Broadway debut in “The Present,” an ambitious but ultimately futile adaptation by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband) of Anton Chekhov’s long-winded and muddled first play.
“Platonov,” which was discovered after Chekhov’s death, includes character traits, viewpoints and other elements that were later used to better effect in his four masterworks (“The Seagull,” “Uncle Vanya,” “Three Sisters,” “The Cherry Orchard”). Watching “Platonov” today is not unlike watching a bad new play that feels derivative of Chekhov.
Set at an old country estate in contemporary Russia, Mikhail (Richard Roxburgh), a handsome and hypercritical schoolmaster who resembles a combination of Hamlet and Don Juan, is married but nevertheless ends up attracting three other women at once, leading to chaos and tragedy.
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.