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Vanya on 42nd Street



In this Louis Malle film Andre Gregory directs a street-clothes production of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (as adapted by David Mamet) in the ruins of Mantattan's New Amsterdam Theatre, which has since been renovated by Walt Disney. Based on actual run-throughs of this play, seen by audiences of only 20 or 30, the film adroitly captures a well-honed production and incidentally unites Malle with the cowriters and costars of My Dinner With Andre, Gregory and Wallace Shawn (Vanya). Not all of Chekhov's social themes survive the contemporary trappings (as in My Dinner With Andre, some of the dialogue registers as yuppie complaining), but thanks to Gregory's sensitive direction each actor shines. Julianne Moore as Yelena and Larry Pine as Dr. Astrov are especially impressive, and even a technically limited character actor like Shawn outdoes himself (albeit without quite filling Vanya's shoes). Malle adeptly eases us into the play: the actors initially play themselves and then get down to work, so that we can't quite tell at what precise moment Chekhov takes over, an ambiguity that becomes the film's triumph as well as its key limitation. With Brooke Smith, George Gaynes, Lynn Cohen, Phoebe Brand, and Jerry Mayer. Music Box, Friday, December 23, through Thursday, January 5.

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