Well this one has me stumped. Not that I don’t get what is going on. I don’t get why.
Olga Knipper (Bianca Amato) is waiting in a St. Petersburg theatre for a rehearsal of The Cherry Orchard to begin. It has been a mere few months since her husband, Anton Chekov, has died. Olga is not only in mourning; she knows she is being trotted out as the Chekov widow and the closest that anyone will now get to that icon. She has a glorious monologue that begins this play and delves in to every actor’s nightmare about self worth, and the fickle nature of the actor’s life. Amato is spot on.
She is also spot on because she is in one spotlight. Well it’s not really a spot light. More like a portable heater converted into a powerful light. It sits on the floor, or, more precisely, on the downstage side of the platform on which Amato is seated. It creates an intimate and eerie effect for this opening monologue. But because this is the only light used (no lighting designer listed, thanks) for the entire length of the piece, this effect soon loses any charm it initially possessed.
Soon Knipper is joined by Aleko (Luke Robertson) and Masha (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) who seem to be the only other actors available in the entire city. St. Petersburg is experiencing the first wave of the Revolution directly outside the theatre.
Without reinforcements, the actors are left to their own devices. So while confined to a very small platform that can barely contain all three comfortably they come up with an idea to investigate The Cherry Orchard and, later on, recreate Chekov’s death.
They slip and slide in and out of reality and fantasy. We don’t know who is acting-acting and who is in the throes of sincerity. Masha and Aleko want to know what the last moments of the theatre icon were like. Knipper is eager to examine her own feelings with the benefit of a little time and the assistance of eager actors.
Soon this examination devolves into self-reference, however, and we sort of get left behind. The trio becomes more group therapy than performance, and the trouble is that we don’t know who they are to begin with. The piece concludes with a tirade that erupts out of Masha. There is real drama going on outside in the street where people are being shot for a cause that is greater than any theatre one can imagine. This play-acting pales in comparison to the Revolution.
Which is of course true, but because we only experience the Revolution in passing – we never hear the crowds outside the theatre, and the actors never leave their platform – it is difficult for us to actually feel what Masha feels. And her delivery is so without variation that it is difficult to listen at all.
The actors remain trapped on their platform and we remain trapped in our seats. The twain does not meet, and that is unfortunate. These are three terrific actors who deserve a production that lets them shine. Here they only get the chance to play in the shadows.
"A turgid and repetitive meditation on love, theater and politics"
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Too self-satisfied for its own good, let alone ours."
Frank Scheck for New York Post
"These windy contemplations of Chekhov and art don’t add up to a show."
Suzy Evans for Back Stage
External links to full reviews from popular press...