The Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov translated by John Christopher Jones
Directed by Andrei Belgrader
Featuring Dianne Wiest, John Turturro
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street
December 3, 2011 — December 30, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
December 3, 2011

(L-R) Katherine Waterson, Dianne Wiest, Daniel Davis in Santo Loquasto’s first of four delicious playing areas.  Photo by Richard Termine, New York Times.

The intimate three-sided playing space of Classic Stage Company‘s 13th Street home focuses, illuminates, entrances. Any moments of hesitation, of illegitimacy, of insecurity in design or characterization are magnified and can overwhelm a production.  No such moments are present in the music box cum direct address cum confessional direct-address modernist adventure playing through the end of December. Anton Chekhov‘s The Cherry Orchard in a spanking, spare, and playable new translation by actor John Christopher Jones, is mesmerizing and surprising and occasionally emotionally devastating.

Santo Loquasto‘s simple design of floor to ceiling scrim curtains that reveal then enclose this story of two acts and several simply evoked settings (child’s play room, main manor hall, picnic location, luggage-strewn moving day assembly point) perfectly frames this production. Characters etched to their essence — grieving romantic mother Ranevskaya (Dianne Wiest), her younger attentive and thwarted daughter Anya (Katherine Waterston), her older household-running daughter Varya (Juliet Rylance), her comically earnest brother Gaev (Daniel Davis).

These people of the estate, the once-monied now struggling upper class, confront as millions do in the current day the threat of losing their home, their lands, their familiar world. Credit must be granted to the adapter and the director and these exquisite actors for not underscoring those these too directly. We share a sympathy for times of economic turmoil with this story set over 100 years ago, yet this story is allowed to live in its pre-Revolution times of class distinctions that are universal and yet specially Russian. Some servants chafe at their roles in the growing unrest of their times of class awareness — such as Yasha (Slate Holmgren) — while others take comfort in the only protected world of service they have ever known — such as our heartbreaking manservant Fiers (Alvin Epstein). Providing the connective tissue, attempting to bridge both worlds, is the particular sweet and heartbreaking and nuanced portrayal of Lopakhin (John Turturro), our poor boy who has made good and could save the whole family and their estate if they’d only allow him to lead. A temporary resolve (class distinctions are maintained, but at what cost?) is achieved in this work that makes a 21st century heart ache — we know what was coming for people in the years evoked in this play.

Direction with delicacy and aplomb  by Andrei Belgrader with choreography by Orlando Pabotoy — gentle, subtle, evocative. Laughter, tears, joy, understanding, beauty and clear often surprising storytelling.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 4, 2011)

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