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    Broadway’s Crunchtime Is Also Its Best Life

    Eighteen openings in two months will drive everyone crazy. But maybe there should be even more.Broadway is the pinnacle of the commercial theater, a billion-dollar cultural enterprise and a jewel of New York City. So why is it run like a Christmas tree farm?I don’t mean that it invites too much tinsel. I mean that it operates at a very low hum for 10 months of the year and then goes into a two-month frenzy of product dumping.This year, 18 shows, more than half of the season’s entire output, will open on Broadway in March and April — 12 in just the last two weeks before the Tony Awards cutoff on April 25. Like the film industry in December, angling for Oscars before its end-of-year deadline, theater producers bet on the short memory of voters (and a burst of free publicity on the Tonys telecast) to hoist their shows into summer and beyond.From a business standpoint, this is obviously unwise. Instead of maintaining a drumbeat of openings throughout the year — as Hollywood, with hundreds of releases, can do despite its December splurge — Broadway, with only 30 to 40 openings in a typical season, keeps choosing to deplete the airspace, exhaust the critics and confuse the audiences with its brief, sudden, springtime overdrive.Of course, I shouldn’t care about the business standpoint; I’m one of those soon-to-be-exhausted critics. Please pity me having to see a lot of shows from good seats for free.But regardless of the as-yet-unjudgeable merits of the work, I find myself enthusiastic about the glut. I might even argue for more.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Steve Carell to Make Broadway Debut as Uncle Vanya Next Spring

    The production, a new translation by Heidi Schreck, will also star Alison Pill, William Jackson Harper, Alfred Molina and Anika Noni Rose.Steve Carell, the screen actor best known for his breakout role as a blundering boss in the NBC comedy “The Office,” will make his Broadway debut in a revival of the Chekhov classic “Uncle Vanya.”Carell will lead a cast of television, film and stage veterans in the production, which is to begin performances April 2 and to open April 24 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, a Broadway house at the nonprofit Lincoln Center Theater.“Uncle Vanya” is a dark Russian drama, first performed in 1899, about a rural family whose dreary but stable routine is disrupted when the property’s long-absent owner, a retired professor, comes to visit with his new, and much younger, wife. The play has been staged and adapted many times — this will be the 11th production on Broadway — and this iteration will be based on a new translation by Heidi Schreck, whose previous Broadway venture, an autobiographical show called “What the Constitution Means to Me,” is expected to be the most-staged play at U.S. theaters this season (not counting those by Shakespeare and Dickens).Carell, who played a regional manager in “The Office,” will also play a manager in “Uncle Vanya.” His character is the country estate’s long-suffering administrator (and the brother of the professor’s first wife); he oversees the property with a niece, Sonya, who will be played by Alison Pill, who last appeared on Broadway in a revival of “Three Tall Women” and was a Tony Award nominee for “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” They will be joined by William Jackson Harper, an alumnus of the NBC comedy “The Good Place” who this year wowed Off Broadway audiences with his starring role in “Primary Trust”; he will play Astrov, the local doctor.Alfred Molina (a three-time Tony nominee, for “Red,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Art”) will play the professor, while Anika Noni Rose (a Tony winner for “Caroline, or Change”) will play the professor’s wife. Jayne Houdyshell (a Tony winner for “The Humans”) will play Vanya’s mother, and Mia Katigbak (an Obie winner for “Awake and Sing!”) will portray a household nurse.“Uncle Vanya” is being directed by Lila Neugebauer, who is also directing a Broadway production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play “Appropriate,” which is scheduled to open next month. More

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    Review: Andrew Scott Plays Every Part in ‘Vanya.’ Why?

    In London, transforming Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” into a one-man show is an impressive feat, but it costs the play its pathos.Most of us will live unfulfilled lives: This brutal and eternal truth has accounted for the enduring appeal of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” since it was first staged by Konstantin Stanislavski in Moscow in 1899. An ambitious new adaptation of this bleakly funny play looks to tease out its essence by stripping it down to its barest elements.“Vanya,” adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Sam Yates, runs at the Duke of York’s Theater, in London, through Oct. 21, and features Andrew Scott — best known for playing the forbidden love interest in the hit TV series, “Fleabag” — in all eight roles. Scott gives an accomplished and engaging performance, but the one-man-show format throws up challenges, and ultimately doesn’t quite do justice to the play’s moral complexity and emotional resonance.Small details have been changed here and there, but the contours of the story are familiar. Alexander, an aging and infirm filmmaker (a professor in the original play), returns to the country estate that has funded his cosmopolitan lifestyle, accompanied by his beautiful and much younger second wife, Helena. He hangs out with his middle-aged brother-in-law, Ivan (the titular Vanya), who has managed the estate for many years; his former mother-in-law, Elizabeth; his daughter, Sonia; and receives frequent visits from a doctor, Michael.Regrets and frustrations abound. Alexander is acutely conscious that his powers are waning; Ivan feels he has wasted his potential by eking out an existence as a rural dogsbody, rather than chasing his dreams; Sonia has an intense crush on Michael, who only has eyes for Helena. In short, everyone is miserable. The only solace comes in the form of vodka.Scott flits between the various parts by nimbly modulating his voice and bearing. If a certain amount of realism is sacrificed — to help orientate the audience, the characters’ names are mentioned more frequently than is natural, and the female characters occasionally come off a bit campy — it is nonetheless an impressive feat.“Vanya,” is a stripped down version of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Sam Yates.Marc BrennerSometimes, when switching from one character to the next, Scott will shoot the audience a knowing look as he skips to another point a few feet away, channeling the tongue-in-cheek demeanor of a clown or pantomime artist. The conceit is played for laughs at several points, such as when one relatively minor character pipes up for the first time about 15 minutes into the show, prompting another character to ask how long he’d been sitting there.It’s a lot to take on, and, perhaps inevitably, Scott bumps up against some limitations. He does a fine line in affable awkwardness — the coy half-smirks, pregnant pauses and knowing glances that so endeared him to viewers of “Fleabag” — but he really needs a foil. Without one, we have the strange, and somewhat dissatisfying, spectacle of a man flirting with himself.There is, moreover, an emotionally shallow quality to Scott’s onstage presence, a certain glassy inscrutability that suggests he’s a little too steeped in wry self-awareness to comfortably inhabit any other mode. He is great when rendering the human comedy of unrequited love, frustrated lust and drunken self-pity, but in the earnestly melancholic moments — this is Chekhov after all — the best he can serve up is an ironic facsimile of wistfulness.The set, designed by Rosanna Vize, is carefully calibrated to evoke nothing in particular: A laminate desk; a fiberboard door frame; a generic, possibly midcentury, kitchenette. Scott’s attire is likewise neutral. Even the play’s title has been stripped down. Everything is geared toward an experience of pure, no-frills theater, enabling the audience to commune directly with the actor and text.It’s a noble aim, but a question niggles away: What artistic benefit is derived from having a single actor play all the parts? I was reminded of the French avant-garde writers’ circle, Oulipo, whose members enjoyed subjecting themselves to technical constraints. One of them, Georges Perec, famously composed an entire novel without the letter “e”: an interesting thing to do, but what was the point?The end product is what counts, and in this instance, the play is not well served; if anything, its pathos is diluted. Constraint for its own sake is self-indulgence, and there’s a fine line between a conceit and a mere gimmick.VanyaThrough Oct. 21 at the Duke of York’s Theater, London; dukeofyorks.com. More

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    ‘Uncle Vanya’ Review: Candlelit With a High-Wattage Cast

    Unrequited love swirls through this prestige-cast production of Anton Chekhov’s play, in a Manhattan loft.Leaning close in the flickering candlelight, Sonya and the man who makes her stomach flutter share a sneaky midnight snack. He is Astrov, her houseguest, and he is frankly a bit of a mess — drinks too much, is in fact drunk at the moment. He is also endearingly odd and smart and sweet, an eco-nerd physician who’s sending her some incredibly mixed signals.“We’re all alone here,” he says, sotto voce. “We can be honest with each other.”It is a scene so beguiling, so full of crushy hope on one side and obliviousness (or is it?) on the other, that it’s like watching Laura and the Gentleman Caller in “The Glass Menagerie.” But this is “Uncle Vanya,” and if Chekhov has never before made you want to match-make a couple of his characters on Tinder, this version — directed by Jack Serio in a loft in the Flatiron District of Manhattan — just might.“You’re a beautiful human being, more than anybody I know,” Sonya tells Astrov, and because she is portrayed by the magnificent Marin Ireland and he would obviously be ridiculously lucky to have her, your whole soul rises up in outrage: What is wrong with this likable doctor (beautifully played by Will Brill of sexy “Oklahoma!” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) that he’s obsessed with Yelena, her stepmother, instead?So is Sonya’s Uncle Vanya, whose play this is meant to be. A nose-to-the-grindstone worker, he looks up in middle age and realizes to his horror and humiliation that he has wasted his life fattening the bank account and elevating the status of an unworthy man: Sonya’s father, the over-entitled professor, Serebryakov (a dapper Bill Irwin). Doomed to receive nothing better from Yelena, the professor’s wife, than a pathetic kiss on the forehead, Vanya doesn’t even have a woman to love him.David Cromer’s performance in the title role, though, suggests none of that swallowed fire and swirling torment. His Vanya is a blank, and it’s not a matter of simplicity or restraint; there is nothing to the interpretation underneath the words, even when Vanya gets loud. Certainly there wasn’t on Saturday night, when I saw the play. But a live show is an evolving organism. Cromer may yet fill up that hollowness.Using a warm, seamless, contemporary translation by Paul Schmidt, and performed for an audience of no more than 40 seated along two sides of the loft, this is an intimate production that’s strange as well — because of the unbalancing emptiness of Cromer’s Vanya, and because of the maturity and intelligence of its Yelena, played by Julia Chan.Reading as older than the 27 years that Chekhov specifies, but still clearly decades younger than her husband, she is no incurious ingenue. There is a wisdom to this Yelena, and a savvy; Astrov and Vanya’s rivalrous infatuation with her, then, is no mere response to dewdrop youth. Chicly dressed for the city life she has left behind (costumes are by Ricky Reynoso), she is the picture of pristine elegance, sure of herself and too lively minded to find happiness in the cosseted quiet of this country house.Jack Serio’s production of “Uncle Vanya,” with, clockwise from lower left, Virginia Wing as Marina, Will Brill as Astrov and David Cromer as Vanya. It’s performed for an audience of no more than 40 seated along two sides of the room.Emilio MadridNo one else is finding happiness, either, of course; at best, perhaps placid resignation. Vanya, in his resentment, comes nowhere near that, but a bouquet-smashing eruption of his temper is the catalyst for a mesmerizingly pretty stage tableau: soft orange rose petals fallen just so on the weathered teal table and the blond wood floor. (The set is by Walt Spangler, the props by Carrie Mossman.)“It was a scene worthy of an old master,” Vanya and Sonya’s adorable, guitar-strumming neighbor, Telegin (the wonderfully funny Will Dagger), says a short time later, and while he may be thinking less of the flowers than of the gunplay that ensued, the sentiment is absolutely right.Stunning visuals — like those petals and that candlelit tête-à-tête — are a hallmark of Serio’s work. The lighting designer Stacey Derosier, who was instrumental to the look of his “On Set With Theda Bara” early this year and “This Beautiful Future” last year, also designed “Uncle Vanya.”But what glows most tantalizingly in this production is the pulsing electricity between the tender, resilient Sonya and the tree-planting Astrov, who is far too casual with her heart. If only he could love her the way he loves the forest.Uncle VanyaThrough July 16 at a loft in the Flatiron District, Manhattan; vanyanyc.com. Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes. More

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    One Indelible Scene: When the Show Must Go on in ‘Drive My Car’

    Through a staging of “Uncle Vanya,” the director Ryusuke Hamaguchi creates an intimacy for his characters that lets the artifice of cinema fall away.I’m going to talk about how the movie ends, but I’m not going to spoil it.The plot of “Drive My Car” doesn’t really work that way in any case. Adapted by Ryusuke Hamaguchi (working with Takamasa Oe) from a novella by Haruki Murakami, the film is an adventure of gentle turns and an occasional swerve, with big surprises and small revelations scattered like scenery on a long road trip. You may be startled at how quickly it all goes by; the movie lasts almost three hours, but the time passes easily.A brief, tactful summary may be in order, a kind of Google Maps précis of the route. Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a Tokyo theater director and actor, is married to Oto (Reika Kirishima), an actress, who is having an affair with a younger colleague. The couple had a young daughter who died some years before, and when Oto dies suddenly, she leaves Yusuke paralyzed with grief. Or so we surmise. He has a tendency to camouflage his feelings behind a facade of calm, punctuating his habitual reticence with an occasional flash of irritation or sardonic humor.He keeps working, taking up a residency at a Hiroshima arts center, where he will direct an experimental production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” I don’t think I can spoil that one either. The great works are like that, and one of the marvels of “Drive My Car” is the way it illuminates and refreshes a sturdy old classic, deriving some of its own power, novelty and mystery from Chekhov’s well-thumbed text.A little bit more about “Drive My Car,” though. In Hiroshima, Yusuke is assigned a chauffeur, Misaki (Toko Miura), who shuttles him to rehearsals, errands and social engagements in his beloved red Saab. Like Yusuke, she has suffered a terrible loss, and their shared grief — or rather, their common state of raw, lonely, unacknowledged anguish — becomes the foundation of a delicate and improbable friendship.Unacknowledged anguish underlies the relationship between the characters played by Nishijima and Toko Miura.Sideshow and Janus FilmsThe story of that bond culminates in an intensely emotional scene in a snowy field — tears are shed, and Yusuke at last gives voice to his hitherto unarticulated pain — that would surely be an Oscar-night showstopper. (And if the academy has the good sense to nominate “Drive My Car” for best picture and Nishijima and Miura for acting, maybe it will be). But what I want to talk about is what happens next.Which is that the show goes on. As the “Uncle Vanya” opening night approaches, we have been privy to some backstage intrigue and immersed in Yusuke’s unusual approach to the play. The cast includes actors from various countries, all of them speaking Chekhov’s dialogue in their native languages, including Mandarin, Japanese, Tagalog and Korean Sign Language. Once an audience is present, supertitles are projected on a screen behind the stage. The English-language viewer, already reading subtitles, learns to listen for the tones and rhythms of the different languages, including the swish and tap of signing hands.That may sound forbiddingly cerebral, like the kind of high-concept aesthetic undertaking that tends to be more interesting in theory than in practice. It turns out to be the opposite. “Uncle Vanya,” a play about how hard it is to hold onto a sense of what matters in life, has rarely felt more vital or immediate, as if it had not been written in the 1890s but rather lived in front of our eyes.Yusuke, white powder sprinkled in his hair and a mustache pasted to his lip, is playing the title role, a 47-year-old man driven almost to madness — almost to murder — by unrequited yearning and existential disappointment. His appearance onstage is an unexpected development, the payoff of a subplot that I will leave to you to discover.“Uncle Vanya” being performed in a scene from “Drive My Car.” Sideshow and Janus FilmsYusuke has stayed away from acting since Oto’s death, and as “Uncle Vanya” unfolds, the shock to his system seems apparent. After Vanya’s Act III rant about his squandered prospects and bitter regrets — “If I’d lived normally, I might have been another Schopenhauer or Dostoyevsky!” — he steadies himself against a table in the wings, seeming to struggle for breath and composure.Perhaps Vanya’s plight reminds him of his own, or perhaps the demands of acting are too much to bear. The first Russian production of “Uncle Vanya” was directed by Konstantin Stanislavsky, the progenitor of Method acting, in which the actor plumbs his own experience to locate the emotional truth of the character. Knowing what we know about Yusuke — having seen him weeping in the snow in the previous scene — it’s easy to grasp why he would be overcome by Vanya’s torment.But he’s also a professional, and the scene proceeds briskly through a montage of the performance. We see the onstage action from the side, then on a video monitor in the green room, observing the movement of props and bodies rather than absorbing the movement of Chekhov’s drama. The film seems to be settling into a muted denouement.Five Movies to Watch This WinterCard 1 of 51. “The Power of the Dog”: More

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    How Helen McCrory Shone, Even in a Haze of Mystery

    She was unforgettable onstage playing seemingly serene women who rippled with restlessness.Selfishly, my first feelings on hearing that the uncanny British actress Helen McCrory had died at 52 were of personal betrayal. We were supposed to have shared a long and fruitful future together, she and I. There’d be me on one side of the footlights and her on the other, as she unpacked the secrets of the human heart with a grace and ruthlessness shared by only a few theater performers in each generation.I never met her, but I knew her — or rather I knew the women she embodied with an intimacy that sometimes seemed like a cruel violation of privacy. When London’s theaters reawakened from their pandemic lockdown, she was supposed to be waiting for me with yet another complete embodiment of a self-surprising life.Ms. McCrory had become world famous for dark and exotic roles onscreen, as the fiercely patrician witch Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies and the terrifying criminal matriarch Polly Gray in the BBC series “Peaky Blinders.” But for me, she was, above all, a bright creature of the stage and in herself a reason to make a theater trip to London.More often than not, she’d be there, portraying women of wit and passion, whose commanding serenity rippled with hints of upheavals to come, masterly performances in masterworks by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Pinter, Ibsen, Rattigan and Euripides. Sometimes, she’d take you to places you thought you never wanted to go, to depths where poise was shattered and pride scraped raw.How grateful, though, I felt at the end of these performances, even after a pitch-bleak “Medea,” at the National Theater in 2014, which she turned into an uncompromising study in the festering nightmare of clinical depression. Granted, I often felt sucker-punched, too, maybe because I hadn’t expected such an ostensibly self-contained person to unravel so completely and convincingly. Then again, that was part of the thrill of watching her.Her “Medea,” also for the National Theater, dared to hit rock bottom before the play had even started.Richard Hubert SmithMost of Ms. McCrory’s fans felt sucker-punched by her death, I imagine. Aside from her family — who include her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, and their two children — few people even knew she had cancer. The announcement of her death was a stealth attack, like that of Nora Ephron (in 2012), who had also managed to keep her final illness a secret.I have great admiration for public figures who are able to take private control of their last days. Still, when I saw on Twitter that Ms. McCrory had died, I yelled “No!,” with a reiterated obscenity, and began angrily pacing the room.Damn it, Ms. McCrory had within her so many more complex, realer-than-life portraits to give us. Imagine what we would have lost if Judi Dench, Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren had died in her early 50s.McCrory, center, with Emily Watson, left, and Simon Russell Beale in “Uncle Vanya.”Stephanie Berger for The New York TimesLike Ms. Mirren, Ms. McCrory, at first glance, exuded a seductive air of mystery. Even in her youth, she had a sphinx’s smile, a husky alto and an often amused, slightly weary gaze, as if she had already seen more than you ever would.In the early 21st century, I saw her as the languorous, restless Yelena in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” a role she was born for (in repertory with a lust-delighted Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” directed by Sam Mendes); as a defiantly sensual Rosalind in “As You Like It” on the West End; and (again perfectly cast) as the enigmatic friend who comes to visit in Harold Pinter’s “Old Times” at the Donmar Warehouse.In those productions, she brought to mind the erotic worldliness of Jeanne Moreau. It was her default persona in those days, and one she could have coasted on for the rest of her career. She brimmed with humor and intelligence, and I could imagine her, in another era, as a muse for the likes of Noël Coward.But Ms. McCrory wanted to dig deeper. And within less than a decade, between 2008 and 2016, she delivered greatness in three full-impact performances that cut to the marrow of ruined and ruinous lives. First came her electrically divided Rebecca West in Ibsen’s “Rosmersholm,” a freethinking “new woman” torn apart by the shackling conventions of a society she could never comfortably inhabit. Then there was her heart-stopping Hester Collyer, an upper-middle-class woman destroyed by sexual reawakening, in Terence Rattigan’s “The Deep Blue Sea.”In between, she dared to be a Medea who had hit bottom before the play even started. In Carrie Cracknell’s unblinkingly harsh production, Ms. McCrory played Euripides’s wronged sorceress as a despair-sodden woman who believed she would never, ever feel better. It was the horrible, dead-end logic of depression that drove this Medea.“Nothing can come between this woman and her misery,” observed the household nanny (played by a young Michaela Coel). But it was Ms. McCrory’s gift to lead us into that illuminating space between a character and her most extreme emotions, and to make us grasp where those feelings come from and how they have taken possession of her.I never failed to experience that flash of revelation watching Ms. McCrory. London is going to seem so much lonelier whenever I return to it. More