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Cate Blanchett’s STC Broadway debut divides critics

The Sydney Theatre Company production of The Present, starring Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh, has opened on Broadway to both scathing and effusively positive reviews. The play marks the debuts of both Blanchett and Roxburgh, offering Blanchett her first opportunity to add a Tony Award to her trophy cabinet, to stand beside her two Oscars.

But although Blanchett’s star power makes The Present a hot ticket, the critical response has been mixed, with some reviews labelling the play “dull” and “tedious”.

The major criticism of the production lies with the source material, Chekhov’s first, unproduced play, and Andrew Upton’s adaptation. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley refers to the piece as a “sprawling and confused adaptation of a sprawling and confused play.”

He continued: “Such commanding, try-anything charisma is useful if you’re attempting to hold together a badly assembled party or, for that matter, play. But here Ms. Blanchett’s take-charge inventiveness is as sorely taxed as that of her character.”

David Cote, of Time Out New York ripped into the play: “This crass, seriocomic script lumbers along for three palpable hours, alternately tedious and odious, expecting us to care about its petty, miserable, bed-hopping Russian characters without giving them witty or touching things to say. ‘I’m so bored. Bored and disappointed,’ moans Anna Petrovna (Blanchett) during her boozy, interminable birthday party. She speaks for all of us.”

Despite the criticisms made of the play itself, both Blanchett and Roxburgh have received near unanimous acclaim.

Marilyn Stasio wrote in Variety: “Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh lead the Sydney Theater Company in a sparkling production of The Present, Andrew Upton’s free-form treatment of Anton Chekhov’s Platonov. The original play, an early effort written when the playwright was 21, is quite the shaggy dog — rambling, unfocused and stuffed with gratuitous characters. But the spirit of Chekhovian farce shines bright, and the ensemble work of this Aussie company is just grand … This is a Broadway debut for both leads and for the Sydney Theater Company itself. Is it too soon to ask them back?”

Steven Suskin of the Huffington Post gave one of the most positive reviews: “Three of Upton’s other STC adaptations—Hedda Gabler, Uncle Vanya and Genet’s The Maids—have made brief New York visits, thanks to Blanchett’s star-power. Her presence in The Present makes it an instant event on Broadway; but the play and production are more than worthy, thank you very much. What’s more, the excellence of the entire acting company of thirteen makes it abundantly clear why the U.S. producers went to the expense of importing them from Australia.”

The Present is on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre until March 19.

Featured image by Joan Marcus

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