Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov considered The Cherry Orchard to be a comedy. Its first director, Stanislavski, believed it was a tragedy. Since its first production over a hundred years ago, directors have been striving to find the perfect balance for this great-granddaddy of dramedies. While director Andrei Belgrader writes that he is "firmly in Chekhov's corner," he fails to mine the deeper levels of humor in his worthy but uninspiring production at the Classic Stage Company. The obviously comic moments are there--the pratfalls, the insults, the nodding off midsentence. But the deeper comedy, the rueful sense of human limitations, is lost, arguably because the production tries too hard.

Take the scene in which Varya (the wonderful Juliet Rylance) believes--as does the audience--that Lopakhin (John Turturro) is about to propose to her. This scene is a master class in subtext. Romance and marriage are never referred to; instead, the characters discuss their plans for the immediate future and, yes, the weather. Without context, their dialogue has no weight at all; with context, it is heartbreaking, and, potentially, heartbreakingly funny. The last thing it needs is Lopakhin getting down on one knee again and again, drowning the delicate humor with blatant signifying. Belgrader also has the characters directly address the audience, with one actually sitting in the first row and offering the woman next to her a bite of a pickle. While this decision adds a little immediacy and a couple of (cheap) laughs, it ruins the sense of time and place.

Overall, however, this production does well by The Cherry Orchard. The themes of class differences, societal changes, passivity in the face of disaster, luck versus hard work, and the price of loving the wrong person are all well-delineated, and parts are quite moving.

Josh Hamilton strikes the perfect tone as the perennial student; Daniel Davis is sweet and touching as the befuddled brother; Alvin Epstein is perfect as the ancient servant; and Roberta Maxwell nails the strange role of the assistant-slash-magician. I did not buy Dianne Wiest as a Russian at the turn of the 20th century; her voice, look, and carriage all signify late 20th, early 21st century. In addition, her relatively small eyes don't read well without the benefit of closeups (I am a huge fan of hers in film). Elisabeth Waterston does well as the younger daughter; Katherine Waterston seems to me miscast. (When I saw that two of Sam Waterston's daughters were in the cast, my first thought was that the Gummers must have been busy.)

The scenic design by Santo Loquasto is beautiful. The costumes by Marco Piemontese are quite nice, but I wish that the CSC had the budget to allow the characters more outfits.

All in all, this is a solid production of the Cherry Orchard, with its strengths outweighing its weaknesses.

(Press ticket, first row center)

No comments: