The Present is a new adaptation of an untitled Chekhov play (perhaps Platonov), completion date unknown. Adapted by Sydney’s Andrew Upton, it has been transformed and reset in the Russia of the 1990s during the rise of the oligarchs. A Chekhov play comes with a lot of baggage. We expect long ruminations on life, love and Mother Russia. We expect lots of drinking, anger and betrayal.
|Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh as Anna and Mikhail|
What Mr. Upton has added is a bit of humor and lightness, without removing the darkness at the heart of the story. And a kangaroo joke; after all, he is Australian.
The story is complicated, but introduced in understandable bite sized pieces. Anna (Cate Blanchett) is celebrating her 40th birthday at the home of her stepson. Her husband was an older general – now deceased, and she is nearly the same age as her stepson and their group of friends. They are all getting together for her birthday celebration. Also showing up for the celebration are Yegor and Alexi, two older men vying for Anna’s attention and perhaps hand in marriage (and a cut of her property).
Showing up late and nearly taking over the celebration is Mikhail (Richard Roxburgh), the one time tutor of Anna’s stepson Sergei and his friend Nikolai. Mikhail is a charismatic character, married to Nikolai’s sister. He and Anna had a long since ended affair, but the chemistry is palpable. In point of fact Mikhail’s chemistry with most of the females at the party is strong. It is mirrored by Anna’s effect on most of the men at the party.
And so, The Present explores the aging and changing of both Mikhail and Anna, particularly their response to it. By setting the scene in post-perestroika Russia, we are also witness the partygoers react to the changing of Russia from a Communist regime to something new and scary. Anna and Mikhail seem competing centers of attention, with the rest of the revelers bewitched by them. The first 3 acts occur at various points the night of the party. We watch as the partygoers deconstruct their own lives until they find the core of their being, or at least what a vodka soaked version of themselves believes is their core. Secrets are revealed, affairs occur.
|Toby Schmitz (as Nikolai) is consoled by Anna|
In the final act, the next morning, repercussions are played out. The ability of women to rebound compared to men is fascinating, even if the conclusions are expected.
The acting, by all members of the cast, is crisp and perfect. It takes a moment to adjust your brain to a play set in Russia where everyone has an Australian accent, but you soon move past that and are swept up in the action. The Present is directed wonderfully by John Crowley, who makes the three hours move by quickly.
Playwright: Andrew Upton, based on a play by Anton Chekhov
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Anna Bamford, Andrew Buchanan, David Donner, Eamon Farren, Maretin Jacobs, Brandon McClelland, Jacqueline McKenzie, Marshall Napier, Susan Prior, Chris Ryan, Toby Schmitz