From Hedda to Streetcar to Vanya: The Many Colors of Cate Blanchett

By Harry Haun
16 Jul 2012

Blanchett in Hedda Gabler.
Photo by Richard Termine
During their three-year regime, the Uptons have worn their different hats with distinction, she acting and he adapting. Not only have they brought illuminating theatre to the locals, they have exported it as well. Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theatre hosted two of Blanchett's brilliant star turns for STC — her Hedda Gabler in March of 2006 and her Blanche DuBois in December of 2009. Last August, there was no room in the BAM inn for a third STC offering, Uncle Vanya, so its three-week stand at The Kennedy Center in Washington became its only U.S. gig.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times led the critical charge on the nation's capital and returned rhapsodizing about the production. "I consider the three hours I spent on Saturday night watching [the characters] complain about how bored they are among the happiest of my theatregoing life," he trilled. "This Uncle Vanya gets under your skin like no other I have seen." The Washington Post critic, Peter Marks, crowned the show D.C.'s top theatrical event of 2011, and that was seconded by two of the city's prestigious Helen Hayes Awards — a Best Actress prize for Blanchett's Yelena, the trophy wife of a pompous academician pursued by two wannabe suitors, and a Best Supporting Actor award for Hugo Weaving's Astrov, one of the unlucky smitten.

Blanchett in Uncle Vanya.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti

The critical commotion caused by that single American engagement led to some serious second-thoughts about the New York market — even with Annie Baker's colloquial Uncle Vanya playing simultaneously to appreciative, packed houses at Soho Rep through Aug. 26. Eventually, Lincoln Center Festival found a suitable slot at New York City Center (July 19-28) and crooked its finger, signaling the original Sydney cast to come a-running. They did, intact and en masse, and now Brantley can revise his valentine to "one of the best and bravest actresses on this planet." "Now, let's hope he remembers what he said," Blanchett cracked wisely. "I'm delighted it turned out this way. It was always about finding the right venue at the right time, synchronizing the tour with everybody's schedules. Last year we were very disappointed it couldn't be worked out because we love New York audiences."

The Sydney Theatre Company is a theatre-based launching pad that has sent more than Blanchett into the cinematic stratosphere. Weaving, who was Elrond to her Galadriel in the "Hobbit"/"Rings" cycles and Judge Brack to her Hedda Gabler, hit Hollywood pay-dirt with "Captain America" and the "Matrix" movies. Vanya's ancient nanny, Jacki Weaver, stepped out of nowhere into the Oscar running a few years back for her scene-stealing support in "Animal Kingdom." When Blanchett first hit her award-courting stride in the early '90s, it was on the stage in Sydney opposite Geoffrey Rush in Oleanna and as Ophelia to Richard Roxburgh's Hamlet.

"It was, really, a great Hamlet, and Richard has a solid theatre rep in Australia," she said of the actor known internationally for his Duke of Monroth in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge." "In fact, our Vanya grew out of the idea of him playing the title role."