Vanya on 42nd Street (YGtCTO #51)

Movie written by Anton Chekhov, David Mamet, and Andre Gregory
Directed by Louis Malle

Have you seen how much those collectibles from My Dinner With Andre are going for on eBay? Especially the inaction figures?

The old jokes are the best jokes.

The truth is that there is very little one can say about My Dinner With Andre that is persuasive to someone who is considering seeing the movie. The best that I have ever mustered is “I know that a movie about two people having dinner doesn’t sound like much, but you really have to see it.” “Well, there has to be more to it than that. You wouldn’t be recommending it if that’s all there is… Would you?” “No, really, that’s it, but it’s still worth your time. Though you might want to drink some coffee ahead of time.”

If it helps any, the script for My Dinner With Andre (and there is one) was boiled down from many hours of recorded conversation between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn. On top of all that, anything with the name Wallace Shawn attached is worth your time. The same may be true for Gregory, but his name has not been attached to so many accessible works.

I will expound more on Anton Chekhov at some future date, but let’s leave it as a given that he was pretty good. In this instance, Uncle Vanya serves a cast of talented actors as a piece for deep exploration without any intent of performing before a live audience. Ultimately, Malle filmed a run through of the show with minimal accoutrements- essentially the actors and the text provide the setting.

Theatre, like no other art form, lends itself to embedding an exegesis of the work and the act of creation within the work itself. The collective experience of a staged performance is a mutual creation between the audience and the performers. Recordings, video or audio only, almost always fall short of recreating the “live” experience. We always judge such captured moments on how closely they approximate the actual thing. We seem to rarely think about the fact that we can only capture that experience from the perspective of the audience though I would argue that some of the best filmed events place us closer to the performers than the audience: Stop Making Sense, Swimming to Cambodia, as well as some live broadcasts from Lincoln Center.

The luxury of rehearsing a script, contemplating its meaning over months and longer is unique outside of maybe Bertolt Brecht. What I find amazing is that the performances remain so fresh. I know that is the definition of professionalism, but these words are hard and the emotions are brutal. Plays just don’t run that long with the same cast. And then to tell the cast that you were bringing cameras up on stage with them. I continue to marvel every time I see the movie. And I have watched it multiple times. I can’t recommend it enough- you really have to see it, though there is a lot of conversation. I’m just saying.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 249 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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