That Ascher spoke virtually not a word of English and would have to communicate his thoughts to a cast of nine Australians with vast stage experience, some with Oscar trophies and others with nominations, with their own histories of Chekhov and roles in movies ranging from “Captain America” to “Moulin Rouge!”? Hey, no problem!
“We both love seeing shows in other languages,” Upton says of himself and his wife. He’s speaking by telephone from Sydney, where, at the moment, he’s minding their three young sons. “I think one of the most important gifts of a director, particularly in naturalism, is finding the psychological truths in a play. And those things are best found nonverbally.”
It’s Upton’s new translation of “Uncle Vanya” — the plaintive, turn-of-the-20th-century portrait of lives passing through a country estate where Vanya (played by Roxburgh) pines in vain for the beautiful Yelena (Blanchett) — that’s being used, a version that was tailored to Ascher’s specifications. For example, the time of the events has been propelled forward vaguely to the Soviet era of the 1950s. So what patrons in the Eisenhower Theater will experience is a Russian play, adapted by a native English speaker, as filtered through the mind of a Hungarian. Oh — and performed in all-out Aussie accents.
“It’s a historic assemblage of actors,” Blanchett says, sitting in a Kennedy Center reception room, the Chinese Lounge, with some of her cast mates. The wish of Roxburgh — best known to moviegoers as the preening Duke in Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” — to play Vanya was what set Blanchett and Upton on a Chekhovian course. “And when you have such fine actors,” she adds, “you think, ‘Who can really stretch them?’ ”
Blanchett is an anomaly among movie stars, an actress so loyal to the stage that she presides over one — well, actually, four — for a premier company in Australia’s top theater town. Even more anomalous: This is her second visit with her group to the Eisenhower in two years. In 2009, she starred as Blanche DuBois in Sydney Theatre Company’s glowingly received “A Streetcar Named Desire.”