(director: Louis Malle; screenwriters: Andre Gregory/David Mamet/based on the play “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov; cinematographer: Declan Quinn; editor: Nancy Baker; music: Joshua Redman; cast: Wallace Shawn (Vanya), Julianne Moore (Yelena), Brooke Smith (Sonya), Larry Pine (Dr. Astrov), George Gaynes (Serybr

yakov), Lynn Cohen (Maman), Phoebe Brand (Marina), Jerry Mayer (Waffles) Madhur Jaffrey (Mrs. Chao), Andre Gregory (himself); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Fred Berner; Sony Pictures Classics; 1994)

“It offers a unique viewing at a work in progress.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

French director Louis Malle’s (“Pretty Baby”/Atlantic City”/”Alamo Bay”) brilliantly provocative, aptly filled with angst and comedy, and touching Vanya on 42nd Street takes place in a crumbling unsafe and condemned old New Amsterdam theatre on the pre-Disney Times Square. It’s similar in intellectual tone to My Dinner With Andre, and features the same director and co-stars (Shawn and Gregory). A select audience of the chosen few are invited to the theater for experimental theater director André Gregory’s workshop bare-bones production of the rethinking of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (staged on-and-off from 1989 to 1994, but never getting a commercial opening). It offers a unique viewing at a work in progress. It’s taken from a 1988 adaptation by playwright David Mamet. Malle filmed it with most of Gregory’s original cast. The props consist of tables, chairs and takeout coffee cups; the actors are dressed in their street clothes and easily go from sitting around in the theater drinking coffee to performing the stage play on a makeshift stage (the set is imagined as a sitting room on a rural estate in Russia). Wallace Shawn as the witty but always complaining Vanya, is a failed, impoverished and embittered academic who manages the estate for his brother-in-law–a man he hates with a passion; Julianne Moore is cast as the redheaded Yelena, the beautiful young married woman Vanya adores but who remains loyal to her ailing and much older academic husband Serybryakov; George Gaynes is Serybryakov, the pompous aging professor married to his second wife Yelena and detested by the jealous Vanya, who resents him for first marrying his sister; Brooke Smith is the sweet Sonya, the stepchild of Yelena who pines for the idealistic country doctor Dr. Astrov; Larry Pine, who sounds like Jason Robards Jr., is Dr. Astrov, who pines for Yelena and fails to acknowledge Sonya’s love, and soothes his aches by drinking heavily.

It’s a play about the disillusioned re-evaluating of what became of their empty lives. This was Malle’s final film, he died of cancer a year later.