Vanya on 42nd Street


New York actors rehearse Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" in a rundown theater.

Release Year: 1994

Rating: 7.2/10 (2,225 voted)

Louis Malle

Stars: Wallace Shawn, Phoebe Brand, George Gaynes

An uniterrupted rehersal of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" played out by a company of actors. The setting is their run down theater with an unusable stage and crumbling ceiling. The play is shown act by act with the briefest of breaks to move props or for refreshments. The lack of costumes, real props and scenery is soon forgotten.

Writers: Anton Chekhov, David Mamet


Phoebe Brand


Lynn Cohen


George Gaynes


Jerry Mayer


Julianne Moore


Larry Pine

Dr. Astrov

Brooke Smith


Wallace Shawn


Andre Gregory


Madhur Jaffrey

Mrs. Chao

Release Date: 19 October 1994

Filming Locations: New Amsterdam Theater – 214 West 42nd Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA

Gross: $1,746,050

Technical Specs


User Review

Four Layers


There's no shortage of intelligent work in film. But here we have one of the
most complexly referential things I've ever seen. Simple self-reference
points to itself. Common self-reference points to the viewer defining the

But Mingus used to say why have three threads when you can have seven? Here,
some of the most adventurous thinkers in film give us four threads, actually
four and a half.

We have the Chekhov play and the Mamet wrapping. Make no mistake that this
is not an editing or a translation, but an annotation. We have two
perspectives simultaneously. Add to that the notion of the play not as a
play for an audience as intended, but an event conducted regularly by the
performers for their own sake. This is a creation orchestrated by Gregory,
the third thread. One can clearly see in some scenes neither Chekhov nor
Mamet but artists collaborating in dialogs. The inner eyes and the outer
eyes differ.

Fourth, we have Malle's creation which introduces us into the equation with
deliberately shaky and sometimes misframed camerawork. We aren't part of any
prior experience, but the actors do include the camera in their
collaboration, as an independent thread. Watch how Andre works the

And finally, we have the framing of the artists in real life. This is not
simultaneous with the others and in any case excludes the

I recall seeing Paul Newman in the Color of Money in the first scene, acting
on three levels simultaneously. It took my breath away. Here, the purpose of
the whole contrivance is to challenge the actors (and the viewers!) to
participate in a jazz ensemble of acting where the layer of reality is
constantly shifting. They chose Uncle Vanya as the base for a reason,
because his evershifting foci of love and hate in pairs provide cues for

Shawn really plays on this. His skill wasn't apparent to me on first
viewing, especially in the first scenes, where all players are on stage and
the non-focus actors have to be invisible. But on repeated viewings one can
see his mastery, his shifting forehead! Maybe he could have been a
Dostoyevsky. The two young women should be celebrated to the heavens for
what they do together. I never believed so many giggles and gasps and
stutters and excited silences could be so finely woven, tossed so lightly.

This is really, really good stuff, very smart. So far as an intelligent
construction you won't see a superior. I never expect to see four levels at
once again in film at least centered in the acting.