The Cherry Orchard

  • Our critic's rating:
    December 1, 2011

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    Dismal! Dismal! Dismal!

    It begins with your entrance into the theatre. The stage is separated from the audience by three walls of gauze that require anyone passing to bat them to the side in order to give you room to proceed. Had these hangings been moved back about a foot, there would have been no impediment. Leaving them hanging as they are, it is as though Andrei Belgrader wants you to know up front that this production is there to block your way as opposed to invite you in.

    Ditto the set itself, which is a large circular platform, except that now it is the actors who have to dodge the first row of audience members when they step off the platform in 19th century garb. In addition they are made to sit on the most confounded set pieces. Actors slid off the hay stack, and the round settee accommodated no one comfortably.

    Then there is the script that has been watered down to contemporary jargon – perhaps “dumbed down” would be the better phrase – that it has lost its poetry. AS a for instance, instead of calling people “goof-for-nothings” Friers must call them “boneheads”. This produces a laugh of course.

    And finally there is the dissolution of the fourth wall that adds an additional vaudevillian flavor to the production. When Roberta Maxwell asks an audience member for his seat, much the way that the Grandmother from the Big Apple Circus interacts with the audience over in Damrosch Park, it produces another laugh, but it also makes you wonder if you are in the right theatre.

    The actors do as best they can against the tide of the direction and translation. Diane Weist (Ranevskaya) places herself at the crossroad of despair, memory and hope. Daniel Davis does some of his finest work as her brother Gaev, who is determined to fill each moment with enough words to ward off the loss of the Cherry Orchard. John Turturrow seems to be struggling as much as an actor as a character, especially when he is left to wrestle with a bentwood chair until its feather stuffed seat explodes, and the feathers stick to the set and the other actors’ costumes for the remainder of the act. Alvin Epstein is heart-breaking as Friers, who has no life other than to be a servant and manages to silence the laughter of the misguided audience with his final moments in the empty house. Roberta Maxwell is spritely and wise and brittle, a woman who has outgrown her time on the planet. The rest of the cast goes about their business with efficiency and grace but to no great effect.

    The entire production seems to be saying “Look at ME!” instead of “Listen to me.” This is slapstick without sensitivity. This is not to say that Chekov is without humor. In Austin Pendleton’s extraordinary production of The Three Sisters last season, there was humor a plenty. There was also a purity, as if the play had been distilled down to its essential elements and then laid out like crystals on a cloth.

    The production felt like it had been tossed in the air and then whacked up against the wall just to see what stuck. Not much did.

    "Heartbreakingly funny."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Glowing production."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Well worth visiting."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "A sort of manic Chekhovian clown show."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "Coarse and dull."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "So-so revival."
    Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey