The Cherry Orchard
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 2, 2011
Anton Chekhov may have labeled his play The Cherry Orchard as a comedy, yet it’s rare that one actually sees it performed as such. Perhaps that’s why Andrei Belgrader’s production for Classic Stage Company, from a new, colloquial (in a good way) and somewhat edited translation by John Christopher Jones, seems so refreshing and so jarring. Clocking in at a sprightly two hours and fifteen minutes including the intermission, this highly entertaining Cherry Orchard, which stars the marvelous John Turturro as Lopakhin and the still-finding-her-footing Dianne Wiest as Madame Ranevskaya, is likely the fastest-paced and farcical you’ll likely to see,. Yet often the humor outweighs the crucial underlying sadness, try as some of the actors might to inject it where they can.
To create this translation, Jones worked with the cast members to achieve dialogue that both naturally flows and is true to their interpretations of the character. The effect is quite wonderful, though the “gonnas” and conjunctions don’t necessarily mesh with Marco Piemontese’s beautiful period costuming. Still, it’s effective enough that it will no doubt find future life in college acting and scene study classes.
Wiest nails Ranevskaya’s impulsiveness and obliviousness, though she really needs to up the ante when it comes to the tragic aspects of the character (as it stands, losing the orchard, even when she takes one last glance around, never seems all that bad). Turturro, on the other hand, is near perfect as the serf-turned-merchant Lopakhin, clearly of a lower class than this family, who simply cannot believe his luck that he was actually able to buy the land where his forefathers worked for so long.
The rest of the ensemble is uneven. As Varya, Juliet Rylance is downright heartbreaking, and when she completely loses it after Lopakhin doesn’t propose it is wrenching. Daniel Davis provides a loving and appropriately blustery Gaev who is just as short-sighted as his sister, and Alvin Epstein’s quietly overwhelmed Firs is tremendous. Others, like the clownish and pratfalling Michael Urie as “Master Disaster” Epikhodov, Josh Hamilton’s blank Trofimov, and Slate Holmgren as a strangely predatory Yasha, cannot overcome the directorial choices. Katherine Waterston and Roberta Maxwell as Anya and Charlotta can similarly afford to tone it down.
Santo Loquasto’s stark, round stage doesn’t really help Belgrader when it comes to staging, and it’s very likely that, depending on your seat, you may be blocked by actors during some of the big speeches.
Unquestionably, this production of The Cherry Orchard has many excellent moments. I just wish everyone were on the same page.