News came last night that in late winter 2016, Cate Blanchett will make her Broadway debut in The Present. The play is Andrew Upton’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s lesser known Platonov. According to production notes, Upton (Blanchett’s husband and frequent stage collaborator) has moved the play from its 19th-century setting to "the mid-1990s at an old country house where friends gather to celebrate the birthday of the independent but compromised widow Anna Petrovna (Blanchett). At the center is the acerbic and witty Platonov (Roxburgh) with his wife, his former students and friends and their partners. They may appear comfortable, but boiling away inside is a mess of unfinished, unresolved relationships, fueled by 20 years of denial, regret and thwarted desire." Sounds like meaty acting material.
If you think this is the movie star’s first big foray on the New York stage, you haven’t been paying attention for the past decade. We’ve been waiting for her to do Broadway for years. Here are four performances I reviewed that confirmed Blanchett as a queen of the stage as well as film.
Hedda in Hedda Gabler (2006)
“[Blanchett] paces the room like a caged beast. A lioness, to be exact. The singular Blanchett combines the feral intensity of a killer cat and the regal bearing of a queen: She’s jungle and court in one lissome package and the role of Ibsen’s doomed, near-villainous housewife suits her perfectly.”
Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (2009)
“[As] incarnated by the magnificent Cate Blanchett in the Sydney Theatre Company’s stunning production… Blanche seduces us and floods our senses all over again. Despite the role’s iconic rendering in Elia Kazan’s 1951 film, the luminous, intense performer makes it hers (how serendipitously Blanche nestles into Blanchett). Blanchett is typically cast as a flinty, commanding woman—apt for Blanche’s aristocratic hauteur—but she can also tap into deep wells of feral panic and desperation.”
Yelena in Uncle Vanya (2012)
“On a superficial level, the acting is vivid and the handsome-looking production, as I say, has the veneer of genuine passion. The actors are talented and hardworking but overwrought, taking the basic truth that Chekhov’s characters are self-dramatizers to a numbing extreme. Blanchett—luscious, feline, sweetly cruel—would, in principle, make a perfect Yelena. But neither she nor the flamboyantly pathetic Roxburgh connects with other characters, or the drama they’re in.”
Claire in The Maids (2014)
In previous visits to the New York stage (Uncle Vanya and A Streetcar Named Desire), the Australian star has never shirked from a style of emoting that is, shall we say, vigorous and full-bodied. But the stops have been removed. Acting herself into a sweaty, smeary, emotionally devastated tizzy, Blanchett almost makes you think Genet wrote the piece on commission for Lee Strasberg.”
As you can see from the last two quotes, I haven’t been crazy about every turn. Sure, Blanchett is always brilliant and fierce, but the productions around her can be unevenly acted or misconceived. Still, The Present will be helmed by veteran director John Crowley. Perhaps he can thread the needle between Australian brashness and Russian melancholy, find that sweet space where Blanchett and her fellow actors can channel Moscow via Sydney. Either way, I'll be there, pen and pad in hand.