Director Louis Malle's swan-song takes us inside a run-down New York theater for a reading of Andre Gregory's upcoming presentation of "Uncle Vanya." The cast, featuring Wallace Shawn (playing Vanya), Julianne Moore (Yelena), Larry Pine (Dr. Astrov), Brooke Smith (Sonya) and George Gaynes (Serybryakov) proceed to enact, in their shirtsleeves, Chekhov's brooding tale of jealousy and isolation, with pauses for coffee-breaks between acts.
This pared down, offbeat approach to rendering Chekhov may inflame purists, but actually helps make the playwright's depressing work more accessible. We get the full treatment, with no flubbed lines or distractions to break the dramatic tension of the piece. Though on first glance, Shawn and Moore may not seem like ideal casting, they turn in credible performances which transport us to that bleak, far-away time in rural Russia. A daring and intelligent piece of work from the late Malle, which takes us behind the velvet curtain to view at close quarters the practice and discipline of stage acting.