Theater Review: 'Uncle Vanya' -- 3 stars
If the summer theater season of 2012 is remembered for nothing else, it should go down for the unexpected reign of "Uncle Vanya." After all, when was the last time a single Chekhov drama received three straight revivals over a relatively short period of time?
This trend began with an experimental, critically dismissed Off-Broadway production by Target Margin Theater in which the play, which explores an unhappy Russian household full of unrequited love and unending anxieties, was awkwardly rewritten based on improvisational exercises.
Another Off-Broadway revival produced by Soho Rep, which is still running in TriBeCa, is set around a small living room in which the audience surrounds the cast and sits on carpeted benches. This contemporized production, featuring a new book by the popular playwright Annie Baker, makes for an unusually intimate experience, even if the staging itself is rather static.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Sydney Theatre Company's rendition of the play, which stars Australian film actress Cate Blanchett as Yelena, the attractive second wife of an older and smug professor. It received wild acclaim when it played a short engagement at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., a year ago.
As the centerpiece of this summer's Lincoln Center Festival, it is playing City Center, which is a terrific venue for musical theater concerts from the celebrated Encores! series, but far too large for a play, let alone a demanding classical drama.
Nevertheless, Tamás Ascher's richly detailed production, which is updated to the Soviet Union of the 1950s, proves to be engaging and accessible. It can even be very funny, thanks to some clever bits of staging. In one terrific moment, Blanchett throws a blanket over herself to drown out the wailings of Richard Roxburgh, who stands out as a wildly theatrical Vanya.
The statuesque Blanchett is made to contrast directly with the grim, deteriorated surroundings of the country estate - where holes have even been punched through the walls - and the rest of the cast, which is dressed in particularly slovenly costumes.
If you go: "Uncle Vanya" plays at City Center through July 28. 131 W. 55th St., 212-721-6500, lincolncenterfestival.com.