Adapted from a little-known 1880 Chekhov play by husband and former co-articstic director of The Sydney Theatre Company Andrew UptonThe Present is quite simply, Blanchett’s very own diamond platform.


Australia’s royalty: Toby Schmitz, Jacqueline McKenzie, Susan Prior, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Anna Bamford and Chris Ryan

When the curtain rose, a general and very subtle gasp resounded. Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett was pointing a gun to the horizon, her foot on a bench and her expression imperturbable. Barefoot and rocking long blond locks tied up with a hairband, “her throaty laugh suggested a cynical intelect and wanton abandonment that could drive men wild,” as Variety put it. Blanchett plays widow Anna Petrovna, a Russian landowner intent on celebrating her 40th birthday with some close friends. Internally afraid she won’t be able to hang on to her home much longer, a mid-life crisis begins to show when her anticipated party goes off the rails.

Her guests include Mikhail Platonov (Mr. Roxburgh), a schoolteacher of rueful wit and unfulfilled dreams who knew Anna when she was the young trophy wife of a respected general; her stepson, Sergei (Chris Ryan), who was best friends with Nikolai (Toby Schmitz) and Mikhail, who is married to Nikolai’s sister, and lastly Sasha (Susan Prior). Though Mikhail is a bloviator, a womanizer and a mean drunk, Sasha loves is all about her bad-boy husband. So, more problematically, do all the other women in the play, who, in addition to the patrician Anna, include Sergei’s wife, Sophia (Jacqueline McKenzie), a humanitarian physician, and Nikolai’s girlfriend, Maria (Anna Bamford). It’s hard to fathom the attraction, but apparently once you’ve had your first whiff of him, Mikhail is as addictive and dangerous as can be. Maybe it’s because he’s livelier and more subversive than the other guys, who include Anna’s rich older suitors, Alexei (Martin Jacobs) and Yegor (David Downer). But like most of his contemporaries, Mikhail can’t stop talking about how directionless his life is.


Anna and her friends party in Russian fashion

More than once, Anna would have monologues that began with a sober reflection, invited laughter and ended in tears. And that’s why this production surpassed Broadway shows and made an average $1M in its first weeks – because it’s a Blanchett masterclass you’re attending. Aware my subjectivity often takes over, it’s unbiased to say the other actors looked at her like they were learning, affording the privilege to abandon their characters for a minute to look at Cate and be blown along with us audience members. Her deep voice and stare, combined with the masterful delivery of very smart and up-to-date lines, accompanied minimal gestures to generate an ethereal grace that we already associate with the name of the performer. Hence resulting in the purest and most thridimensional form of acting I for one have seen, layers are fearlessly taken off so that, both throughout and at the end, you as a viewer hopefully will relate to her reactions and wonder if you would have taken the same road.

Richard Roxburgh, who starred with her in Uncle Vanya in 2013, brings a truthfulness and irresistible allure that make him shine in his own right. The rest of the cast boasts worlwide credits and awards, and generously accomodates in a vehicle otherwise steered by the two smashing leads, who truly save it and elevate it to Broadway quality. But having satisfied political correctness, the play is, obviously, Blanchett’s big gig. Debuting in Broadway in nothing short of diamond form, The Present is something you attend knowing it’s going to be a huge deal. Uproarious, unapologetically honest and at times, ruefully funny, it’s not hard to fathom why pundits have unanimously gave it a pass at the very least.


Sparks fly between Petrovna and Platonov

For all this, I absolutely recommend and cherished this unforgettable experience. Two meters away from my favorite actress (along with Meryl Streep) and now Tony Award-nominee, I can’t wait to see her long overdued theater gold star, in a surely charged ceremony that will be hosted on June 11 by the genius and hopefully next Emmy winner Mr. Kevin Spacey. Get ready for presidential jokes.

Running time: 2h 55.

Location: Ethel Barrymore Theater, Broadway.

Preview: Dec 17, 2016.
Opening: Jan 08, 2017.
Closing: Mar 19, 2017.
Grade: A+

All images are taken from Google.


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