From time to time I like to share my live theater adventures. I hope that readers who don't get to much of it will notice that I try to keep it as cinematically related as possible. That said... support your local theater! You might not even know it's there but it is (and I'm not talking about Broadway tours). I finally had the chance to see one of my all time favorite film actresses on stage last night so I grabbed at it greedily.
Two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest looks to finally be getting the late career revival that her devoted fans have always dreamt of. She's recently won an Emmy (In Treatment), filmed a key role in a possible Oscar contender (Rabbit Hole) and has also been making fairly frequent trips to the stage (recent credits include The Seagull and All My Sons)
In The Forest, a Russian comedy by Aleksandr Ostrovosky that's playing at the Classic Stage Company until the end of May, Wiest plays the miserly pious widow Raisa Pavlovna. She keeps her niece and her riches locked up in her estate in a huge expanse of forest. Raisa plans to marry away her niece, sell off the forest and settle her estate with nothing for her ungrateful heirs (she also has an estranged nephew) and everything going to unspecified "good works". But it soon becomes clear that Raisa can't bear to part with very much of it at all, particularly the money and her niece's bridegroom. Things get really complicated when Raisa's nephew returns unexpectedly after a 15 year absence and the bridegroom realizes that if he plays his cards right he could get a much larger treasure than any bride.
One of the fascinating things about attending live theater is the vivid awareness that what you're seeing is unique to that very night. The first scene sets up the storyline and effortfully introduces all but two of the character but it's slow and expository and the audience wasn't laughing much despite Wiest's deft skill with a line reading. Maybe it was all the Russian names and the unfamiliarity of the play (Chekhov is revived consistently, other Russian playwrights not so much) but one sensed that the audience wasn't sure they were supposed to be laughing; it's Russian, therefore it must be serious tragedy. Perhaps sensing this discomfort, Wiest seemed to suddenly learn harder on the physicality of her comedy. Once she'd jumped onto a table and swung her legs beneath her like a petulant little girl, things changed. Perhaps she pushes that laugh just as hard every night -- who knows -- but it was as if the audience finally realized 'Oh yes... comedy!' With the dam of (ahem) Serious Theater busted open, the laughs were free to spill out from that moment on.
Ostrovsky's plays have been made into Russian films several times but nothing in the English language. I couldn't help but want a big screen version with Wiest reprising her central money-hoarding role. But there are only certain genres that the movies go for in any given generation and the period farce is totally not one of them at this juncture. But I had great fun watching Wiest do Raisa. You can actually catch a glimpse of both of her Oscar winning roles in the character though Wiest is too fine an actor to simply regurgitate. This Russian widow shares with Helen Sinclair (Bullets Over Broadway) a grande dame superiority complex coupled with a lustful desire for young flesh and she shares with Holly (Hannah and Her Sisters) a nervous energy and a touch of the ditz.
Wiest is super and The Forest has a fine set (I loved the heavy abstract tangle of trees) but the cast is uneven and the play does feel a bit too sluggishly performed to amp up the laughter that it does earn. But if you've always wanted to see this brilliant actress on stage, she's so worth seeing. And giggling about afterwards, I must say.
<--- Dianne at the Emmys last year. She's only a Tony away from "The Triple Crown". Unfortunately she hasn't even been nominated yet for that final prize.
Next season the Classic Stage Company is repeating this Russia + Movie Stars trick: Maggie Gyllenhaal and hubby Peter Sarsgaard will star in Chekhov's Three Sisters.
Next up for Wiest is the grandmother role in John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole (see previous posts). Could a fourth Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination be on its way? And what's up with Woody Allen? From 1985 through 1994 she was a highlight in five of his films. He has yet to use her again and since he obviously needs a new muse, why not a reunion?