The Present (Sydney Theatre Company)

Blaring punk and a lovely black and white projection of (what I vaguely remember to be) foliage. If anything could wake me up after walking around the city for five hours, that certainly did the trick.

That, and the anticipation of seeing Cate Blanchett live. That’s a pretty good pick me up as well. And I needed it-my mother and I were the second people in line for rush tickets, so a good portion of the morning had been spent standing in one spot outside the Barrymore waiting for the box office to open. We ended up snagging two box seats for the matinee for $45 each. Adapted from Chekhov’s Platonov by Andrew Upton and directed by John Crowley, it was probably the best $90 ever spent. 

An usher shuts the curtain on our box; the house lights go down. We’re so close to the stage I almost cry. 

There’s no easing into it, it just blasts- Billy Bragg’s “A New England.” Nothing like some 80s Brit punk to get you in the mood for upheaval and rebellion. I looked up the lyrics of the song after the fact, and it sets the tone for the play perfectly. 

I don’t want to change the world. I’m not looking for a new England, I’m just looking for another girl. 

In this case, it’s more like a new Russia. With an Australian cast. It just sort of worked, in a way I didn’t expect. Going into it, I thought the accents might be distracting but with the quality of the acting that just wasn’t the case. By act two I barely noticed. Of course, I may be biased- I would listen to Cate Blanchett read the phone book. 

To be fair, she is absolutely captivating onstage. Lord knows I’m a fan of her films (I still think Carol deserved the Oscar), but onstage she just keeps giving. It was honestly electrifying. For as talented as she is on the big screen, she expresses something extra onstage that just can’t be captured on camera. 

The rest of the cast was just as brilliant, weaving a complex web of characters and relationships. To vaguely reference Carol (as I am known to do), It’s like physics. Bouncing off eachother like pinballs. Some things don’t even react, but everything is alive. That is how conflict is created within the play; with each new reaction (or lack thereof) from characters bumping lives, something is revealed. Whether a detail from the past, plans for the future, or a decision for the present; the plot unfurls before the audience’s eyes. 

Richard Roxburgh (playing Mikhail Platonov) has the most delicious chemistry with Blanchett (Anna Petrovna). From their first interaction in the opening, you see that subtle reaction that speaks volumes- and what it says it that they are the two to watch out for going forward. There is a constant push and pull between them that keeps you itching for more. Amidst a slew of other dalliances, it all comes back to Anna and Mikhail. 

Overall, it definitely had what the poster in the box office promised: vodka, gunshots, and more vodka. And then more vodka. 

I laughed, I cried; I even peed myself a little (the gunshots were loud). I cried a little bit more after curtain call, because I saw it on International Women’s Day and the whole cast came out with red heart balloons while Cate Blanchett made a small speech about all the women that keep the Barrymore running. All in all, it was a beautiful experience. The cast was beautiful, the story was beautiful (albeit messy- I feel bad for the people that do the laundry), and the sets were beautiful. 

The show closed last week, but I would without question have paid full price to see it again. You know, if I had the time or money. I’ve seen a couple musicals on Broadway, but this was my first straight play. As a freshman theatre major trying to figure out what I really want to do, it was kind of a life affirming experience. 

In my senior year of high school, all the underclassmen in drama club decorated the seniors lockers for their last show- my friends put a framed picture of Cate Blanchett in mine. It started off as a joke; I kept her in the dressing room and then brought her to the diner with the whole cast after the show. She makes frequent appearances on my twitter, but now she lives on my desk in my dorm room. And to be honest, that’s what motivates me. If I start to procrastinate coursework or put off running lines, I look up and feel like the picture is totally judging me. 

My motto has essentially become “do it for Cate Blanchett.” Is it a little creepy? Totally. But it is definitely making me work my ass off. I just keep telling myself, if I work as hard as Cate Blanchett I can be the one onstage with college girls losing their minds.