What You Need To Know:
VANYA ON 42ND STREET is a contemporary adaptation by David Mamet of Anton Chekov’s drama UNCLE VANYA. The movie begins as the actors, the director and a small audience meet in Times Square before proceeding to the New Amsterdam Theater, a dark, dilapidated wreck which sets the mood for the play. The setting is a country estate in late 19th Century Russia, managed for many years by Vanya, a 47-year-old bachelor, and his spinster niece Sonya. Professor Serybryakov, Sonya’s father and a celebrated though fraudulent authority on art, is the owner of the estate and has recently retired there with his young wife. The resulting disruption of the household routine causes a boiling-over of emotions which have been simmering over the years.
Wallace Shawn is superb as the whining and impotent Vanya. Brooke Smith also gives a wonderful performance as Sonya. The actors wear modern clothing, and there is no scenery and few props, giving the play an informal atmosphere. This contemporary setting indicates that the emotional situations and ideas expressed are relevant to modern life. The characters, however, complain constantly, resigned to self-inflicted suffering and seeming to prefer their empty, joyless lives. This play is well-written and the movie well-directed, but this fails to make up for the overwhelming hopelessness that the characters demonstrate.