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Vanya on 42nd Street
BLU-RAY disk
Mar 1, 2012 By: Mathew Plale
Vanya on 42nd Street order
Director:
Louis Malle

Actors:
Wallace Shawn
Julianne Moore
Andre Gregory

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A group of actors gather to perform a reading of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya, without an audience or the use of a stage, costumes or props.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
The opening moments of Louis Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street serve to get us acquainted with the cast and the 42nd street theater, which once housed the Ziegfeld Follies and is now overrun with rats who have chewed every bit of the stage. Several actors meet and gather at the abandoned New Amsterdam Theater for a private performance of Russian author Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

It is less of a production than a rehearsed and organized reading. There are no proper costumes, stage sets or props to be found. And only those who volunteered their time or were personally invited are permitted to step into the theater and pay respect to Chekov and Vanya, as adapted by David Mamet.

Starting in the late ‘80s, theater director/writer Andre Gregory assembled a troupe of actors to perform Vanya at the Victory Theater, settled across the street from the New Amsterdam. In 1991, Gregory asked Malle, who had directed Gregory and Wallace Shawn in the conversational, play-like My Dinner with Andre (1981), to film the actors: Shawn as Vanya, Julianne Moore as Yelena, Larry Pine as Dr. Astrov, Brooke Smith as Sonya, George Gaynes as Serebryakov, Lynn Cohen as Maman, Phoebe Brand as Marina, Jerry Mayer as Waffles, Madhur Jaffrey as Mrs. Chao, and Oren Moverman as Flip Innunu. The result, Vanya on 42nd Street, was shot in two weeks and turned out to be Malle’s final film.

Some will wonder, What is the point? It may be to preserve that brief moment when a group of actors in love with the art left all of the glitz to everyone else and stripped down to the essentials. Though I still question whether or not capturing the reading on celluloid doesn’t negate the group’s initial purpose, one thing is sure: Vanya on 42nd Street is an interesting and liberating experiment, free from the expected demands and budget of both theater and film.
THE EXTRAS
Like Life: The Making of Vanya on 42nd Street (35:42): In this documentary, recorded in 2011, actors Andre Gregory, Julianne Moore, Wallace Shawn, Brooke Smith, Lynn Cohen, Larry Pine, and George Gaynes, as well as producer Fred Berner reflect on the film. Topics include attracting the cast, rehearsals, performing for very small audiences, Louis Malle’s contributions, and more.

Trailer

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 20-page booklet featuring an essay titled “An American Vanya” by critic Steven Vineberg and an on-set report by film critic Amy Taubin.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Vanya on 42nd Street is The Criterion Collection’s third Louis Malle release in eight months, and they have done a fine job in restoring the video and audio elements, even though they weren’t impressive to begin with. Aside from being an interesting take on the stage-to-screen adaptation, Vanya is also noted for being Malle’s final feature after a nearly four-decade career.
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