In this 1994 feature by Louis Malle, Andre Gregory directs a street-clothes production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (as adapted by David Mamet) in the ruins of Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Theatre. Based on actual run-throughs of the 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 Andreâ€”Gregory and Wallace Shawn (who plays Vanya). Not all of Chekhov’s social themes survive the contemporary trappings, but thanks to Gregory’s sensitive direction each actor shines. Julianne Moore and Larry Pine 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 so we can’t tell at what precise moment Chekhov takes over, an ambiguity that becomes the film’s triumph as well as its key limitation. 120 min.
Vanya on 42nd Street